Bush says missile shield "urgently" needed to counter Iranian threat

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

George W. Bush speaking at NDU on October 23, 2007.

In a speech on Tuesday, U.S. President George W. Bush said that deploying a missile shield in Europe is necessary to counter an emerging nuclear threat from Iran. The planned missile shield is strongly opposed by Russia, which sees it as a threat to its security.

"The need for missile defense in Europe is real and I believe it's urgent. Iran is pursuing the technology that could be used to produce nuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles of increasing range that could deliver them," Bush said in a speech at the National Defense University. "Today, we have no way to defend Europe against the emerging Iranian threat, so we must deploy a missile defense system there that can."

In his speech, Bush emphasized the threat posed by the range of Iran's missiles. "Last November, Iran conducted military exercises in which it launched ballistic missiles capable of striking Israel and Turkey," Bush said. He warned that, with "continued foreign assistance", Iran could develop an ICBM capable of reaching the United States by 2015.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested that the United States and the West could rely on Russian-operated early warning radar in Azerbaijan to counter missile threats from Iran.

The U.S. missile defense plan includes 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said previously that the shield was seen a "potential threat" by Russia and that Russia could take measures to "neutralize" it. In his speech, Bush said that the missile shield was not designed to intercept missiles from Russia and "would be easily overwhelmed by Russia's nuclear arsenal."

Also on Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates proposed delaying the activation of part of the missile shield if Russia cooperates with the project. "We continue to encourage the Russians to partner with us in missile defense and continue our efforts to reassure them that these facilities are not aimed at Russia and could benefit Russia," Gates said. He also suggested that the missile shield could remain inactive until "definitive proof" of a threat arose. "We would consider tying together the activation of the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic with definitive proof of the threat, in other words, Iranian missile testing and so on," he said.