"President Barack Obama on Thursday overhauled plans for a missile defense shield in eastern Europe, promising instead stronger, swifter defense systems to protect U.S. allies against any threat from Iran.
In a move that may ease tensions with Moscow but spur regional fears of resurgent Kremlin influence, Obama said he had approved recommendations from U.S. military leaders to shift focus to defending against Iran's short and medium-term missile capabilities.
"This new approach will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems and offer greater defenses against the threat of missile attack," Obama said in a brief statement on scrapping plans for ground-based interceptors in Poland and a related radar site in the Czech Republic.
Moscow said it would welcome the decision to drop the program, which had complicated U.S. efforts to enlist Russian support over Afghanistan, Iran and nuclear arms control.
But critics accused the White House of going soft on defense by dropping the project, which had raised hopes of huge contracts among U.S. defense giants.
Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate who lost to Obama in 2008, blasted the move as "seriously misguided" and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, once a leading hawk under the Bush administration, was scathing.
"It's just unambiguously bad decision," he said. "Russia and Iran are the big winners. I just think it's a bad day for American national security."
The Bush administration had proposed the system amid concerns Iran was trying to develop nuclear warheads it could mount on long-range missiles.
The shield was intended to defend against any long-range missile launches from "rogue" states such as Iran and North Korea. Russia saw it as a threat to its missile defenses and its overall security."
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