U.S. Committed to European Missile Defense, Gates Says
By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 3, 2009 If Iranian missile programs would cease production, the United States would not need more missile defense capabilities in Eastern Europe, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during a press conference here today.
“I told the Russians a year ago that if there were no Iranian missile threat, that there would be no need for the third site in Europe,” Gates said in response to a reporter's query about a letter President Barack Obama sent last month to Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev.
“I don't think at all that this is trying to put the Russians on the spot,” Gates continued. “I think it is trying to reopen a dialogue and say, ‘we are open to talking with you about how we address this problem and how we can move forward.’”
Gates said he suggested using a previously discussed alternative of incorporating a full U.S.-Russian partnership in missile defense, citing a commitment to European missile defense. Iranian missiles are a potential threat to Russia, he added.
“The reality is that the missiles that the Iranians are testing can reach a good part of Russia, as well as Eastern Europe and part of Western Europe,” he said. “These missiles cannot reach the United States at this point. This is part of our commitment to a European missile defense.”
At a NATO defense leader meeting in Krakow, Poland, last month, NATO agreed to a ballistic missile defense that would protect against a launch from Iran. The Czech Republic will house a radar for the system, with the actual missiles based in Poland.
Gates said the Polish and Czech Republic Defense Ministries want NATO to push forward “quickly and strongly” with the program, which has been discussed since October 2007 under the Bush administration.
However, Gates said the missile defense issue is among several other critical matters on Obama’s plate and will be managed as quickly as possible.
At a press conference earlier in the day with Great Britain's Defense Minister Gordon Brown, Obama said he had sent a lengthy letter to the Russian president discussing a whole range of issues from nuclear proliferation to terrorism.
Obama said the dialogue with Russia does not diminish his commitment “to making sure that Poland, the Czech Republic and other NATO members are fully enjoying the partnership, the alliance and U.S. support with respect to their security.”
The president characterized the letter as a “quid pro quo” statement.
“It was simply a statement of fact that I've made previously, which is that the missile defense program, to the extent that it is deployed, is designed to deal with not a Russian threat, but an Iranian threat,” he said.
Obama said he’s had “good exchanges” with Russia on the matter so far. He said Russia needs to understand the U.S. commitment to the independence and security of countries like Poland and the Czech Republic, while recognizing other mutual concerns, such as nuclear nonproliferation and terrorism.
“My hope is, is that we can have a constructive relationship where, based on common respect and mutual interest, we can move forward,” he said.