The Wall Street Journal is reporting that US President Barack Obama's administration is planning to abandon its plan to build a missile shield in Eastern Europe -- at least for now. The move comes at the end of a 60-day review by the administration of the Iranian threat.
Obama's decision would mark a clear departure from the policies of his predecessor. The Bush administration had pushed hard for the construction of missile shield installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. The project became a lightning rod for criticism in Russia, with Moscow viewing the expensive and technically flawed Bush project at its back door as a serious provocation -- especially with NATO simultaneously expanding eastward as countries such as the Baltic states joined the alliance. The results of the new review are expected to be finalized next week, the newspaper reported.
The Wall Street Journal cited sources saying the Obama administration now wants to focus on defense against Iranian short- and mid-range missiles, which it believes represent a greater threat. However, current and former US officials told the newspaper that the administration would leave open the option of building the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic if Iran makes significant advances in developing its long-range missiles.
Click on the image below to launch a SPIEGEL ONLINE Flash animation of the missile shield system as originally planned.
Critics believe Obama's moves on the missile shield could also be an attempt on the part of the US to win Moscow's backing for new sanctions against Iran. But there is growing concern in Eastern Europe that rapprochement between Washington and Moscow could come at the expense of the United States' allies in the former Eastern Bloc. "The Poles are nervous," one senior US military official told the newspaper.
Poland's deputy foreign minister, Andrzej Kremer, told Reuters Thursday there was a "strong chance that the shield project might be halted." But he added that the review of the missile shield wasn't over yet. "In 10 days, Deputy Defense Minister Stanislaw Komorowski and I will go to Washington to find out," he said.
Meanwhile, former Polish President Lech Walesa said he was deeply disappointed by the new US administration's plans. "The Americans have always only taken care of their own interests and they have used everyone else," Walesa told Polish news station TVN24. He said Poles must rethink their own view of America and start thinking about their own interests. Walesa said that he had expected Thursday's development.
Obama has already informed the Czech government of his plans. Prime Minister Jan Fischer said Thursday that Obama had told him he planned to distance himself from the plans for the time being.
Warsaw and Washington signed an agreement one year ago for the stationing of 10 interceptor missiles in Poland. A US installation was supposed to have been built at the former air base Redzikowo near Slupsk in northwestern Poland.
Editor's note: Check SPIEGEL ONLINE later today for further coverage from Europe on the missile shield developments..