Page last updated at 15:26 GMT, Friday, 18 September 2009 16:26 UK

Russia hails US missile overhaul

Dimtry Medvedev
Mr Medvedev will hold missile talks with Mr Obama next week

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has welcomed as "positive" the US decision to shelve controversial missile defence bases in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Mr Medvedev said there were now "good conditions" for US-Russia talks on tackling missile proliferation.

US President Barack Obama had earlier announced there would be a shift in US missile defence strategy, following a review of the threat posed by Iran.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said it was a "correct and brave" move.

However, US Republicans have called the decision "short-sighted" and "harmful".

Some said it was a concession to Moscow with nothing in return.

Russia had long objected to plans pursued by the administration of former-President George W Bush to base a missile interceptor system close to its borders, calling it a threat to its security.

Kevin Connolly
Kevin Connolly, BBC News, Washington

It would be hard to invent a news story that tied together more strategic and political issues than the Obama administration's decision to change its stance on the deployment of a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe.

It touches on Washington's assessment of Iran's military capabilities. There is an underlying assumption that Tehran's capacity for mounting warheads on long-range missiles does not pose an immediate strategic headache.

It also sends a signal to the peoples of Central Europe about how President Barack Obama proposes to manage the post Cold War order in their neck of the woods in the next few years. And it raises questions about the administration's much-talked-about desire to "hit the reset" button on its relationship with Russia.

Mr Bush had argued the system was to defend against missiles from "rogue states" like Iran.

Mr Obama ordered a review on taking office earlier this year.

On Thursday he said that new intelligence had shown Iran was pursuing short-range and medium-range missile development, rather than long-range.

He said the US therefore needed a "proven, cost-effective" system that would use land- and sea-based interceptors against the evolving threat.

The US "no longer planned to move forward" with the old shield scheme, the White House said.

In an address on Russian television, Mr Medvedev said Mr Obama was "correcting" the US approach to missile defence.

Mr Medvedev said that he and Mr Obama had in earlier meetings expressed the need to work together to assess the risks of missile proliferation.

"The statement made in Washington today shows that quite good conditions are evolving for such work," Mr Medvedev said.

'Hopeful signal'

The two countries are currently in talks about reducing their nuclear stockpiles.

Now is the time when we should look to strengthen our defences, and those of our allies
Senator John McCain

Mr Medvedev said he would discuss the issues with Mr Obama during a visit to the United Nations in New York next week.

The US move was also welcomed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"I see the decision today as a very hopeful signal that we can overcome the difficulties with Russia and develop a united front to counter the threat of Iran," she said.

However, Republicans in the US have condemned Mr Obama's move.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said it was "short-sighted and harmful to our long-term security interests".

Defeated presidential candidate John McCain called the decision "seriously misguided".

"Given the serious and growing threats posed by Iran's missile and nuclear programmes, now is the time when we should look to strengthen our defences, and those of our allies."

Barack Obama: "I'm confident... we have strengthened America's national security"

But Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the decision was "brilliant" and clearly based on an accurate summary of the current threats.

The missile shield in question was first confirmed in August 2008, when the US signed a deal with Poland to site 10 interceptors at a base near the Baltic Sea, and with the Czech Republic to build a radar station on its territory.

On Thursday Mr Obama said the review he had ordered had shown the threat from Iran had altered.

There was now a need for a more flexible approach to provide "a stronger, smarter and swifter defence" of US and allied forces in Europe.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the first phase of the new strategy would be to deploy "current and proven missile defence systems in the next two years", including the sea-based Aegis and SM-3 interceptors.

BBC defence and security correspondent Nick Childs says the new US strategy is based on mobility and flexibility.

Proven defence systems will be based first on warships and then on land, and will be upgraded over the next decade, he says.

Mr Gates stressed the US was not abandoning missile defence of Europe.

He said negotiations were under way with both Poland and the Czech Republic about deploying upgraded SM-3 interceptors from 2015.

Ground-based system

missile defence
Under the system proposed by former president Bush, ground-based defence missiles would have been sited in Poland and a radar system to detect enemy missiles installed at Brdy in the Czech Republic. Iran's Shahab-3 missile is thought to have a maximum range of 2,000km.

Sea-based system

missile defence
President Barack Obama has shelved plans to site interceptor missiles in Poland. Instead the Aegis and Standard Missile-3 systems will be deployed on US warships based in the Mediterranean, with mobile land-based variants to follow by 2015.

Intercontinental missile ranges

missile defence
The US has developed missile defence sites in California and Alaska as a deterrent to North Korea, which has unsuccessfully tested a 10,000 km range missile the Taepodong-2. Of the US's strategic rivals, Russia has the longest range missile, the SS-18.
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