US officials have indicated that Washington could change its approach to the development of a missile defence system in Europe in the event Iran gives up its uranium enrichment plans.
(FT - 18/10/07; AFP, Reuters, The New York Times, DPA, VOA - 17/10/07)
"There was progress and a positive tone, and we all agreed to keep working," Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said after talks with NATO and Russian officials. [Getty Images]
A senior US official said on Wednesday (October 17th) that the pace of development of the defence shield the Pentagon plans to build in Eastern Europe will depend on the level of threat of missile attacks from "rogue states" such as Iran.
If Tehran would discontinue its uranium enrichment plans, Washington could change its approach to the project, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said following consultations with NATO allies and Russian officials at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels.
The US plan includes the deployment of ten ground-based interceptor missiles in Poland and a sophisticated radar system in the Czech Republic. But the plan is fiercely opposed by Russia, which fears it would undermine the deterrence value of its own military force.
Fried stressed on Wednesday that Washington's "real concern" is not Russia, but Iran.
The missile shield is "intended against the major problem we see developing, which is Iran, and if that problem went away or attenuated, we would obviously draw conclusions", the AFP quoted him as telling reporters in Brussels. "This is a threat-based system, and we would be affected if Iran gave up its [uranium] enrichment and worked with the international community, and had a different approach to things."
Seeking to allay Moscow's concerns, the United States has offered more co-operation with Russia, including sharing early warning missile data and conducting joint research and exercises.
Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed that the Garbala early-warning radar in Azerbaijan be integrated into the US missile defence system, instead of the one the Pentagon wants to install in the Czech Republic. He also offered the use of radar in southern Russia.
The Garbala radar, however, is a different type, which could complement, but not replace, the Czech system, US officials have said.
During talks with Putin and their counterparts in Moscow last week, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates presented a new proposal. It was based on the idea for a joint regional architecture "to defend not only Russia and the United States but also NATO allies against the missile threat", a senior US administrator said in Moscow on Friday.
Meanwhile, talks on the planned missile defence system with Poland and the Czech Republic will continue, the British daily <i>Financial Times</i> reported on Thursday, citing a senior US official. But, the United States is willing to postpone switching on the shield until Washington and Moscow agree on the missile threat from Iran.
"It is our intention to proceed with the construction of missile defence in Europe," the Financial Times quoted Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell as saying. "But the pace at which it becomes operational could be adjusted to meet the threat."
In Brussels, Fried urged nations to join efforts to remove the "Iranian ballistic missile and nuclear weapons threat".
Also on Wednesday, US President George W. Bush warned about the risks of a "World War III", if Iran were allowed to develop nuclear weapons.
So I told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon," he told reporters in Washington.