Barack Obama delivers missile shield warning to Russia
Options for missile shield project in the Czech Republic and Poland set out by Barack Obama in Prague


Barack Obama went to the heart of Europe today to deliver a pointed, if carefully calibrated message to Russia - that the Pentagon would press ahead, if need be, with its contentious missile shield project in the Czech Republic and Poland.

Plans for missile interceptors in Poland and a radar station south of Prague are adamantly opposed by Moscow, which refuses to accept the US argument that the project is aimed not at Russia, but at a potential ballistic missile attack from Iran.

In his first presidential statement on the controversy, in the Czech capital, Prague, Obama built in caveats to his commitments, saying the missile shield would need to be "proven and cost effective".

He also declared that if there was no risk of Iranian attack, there would be no need for the missile shield facilities in Europe.

The outgoing Czech government is keen to secure the Pentagon radar station and seized on Obama's speech as a green light after weeks of anxiety that the White House was ditching this part of George Bush's legacy.

The Poles, by contrast, are not so eager to play host to silos of 10 missile interceptors. They agreed to the US installation in order to be a loyal ally and in return for US promises of beefed up Polish air defences, including Patriot missiles, as security against Russia.

"The driving force for missile defence in Europe will be removed" if there was no perceived nuclear or ballistic missile threat from Iran, Obama said.

Gary Samore, the new arms control adviser to the president, said the North Korean missile launch showed the need for continuing with the missile shield.

"The North Korean test illustrates the importance of continuing to develop missile defence in order to protect the country and our allies in Asia," he said.

But the European sites play no role here. The Pentagon's other two missile shield sites, in California and Alaska, are intended to intercept potential attacks from or in Asia.