The First Draft: Obama scaling back European missile shield
President Barack Obama is abandoning a Bush administration plan to build a big, fixed U.S. missile defense in Eastern Europe.
The president announced the decision Thursday amid reports from Poland and the Czech Republic overnight that officials there had been informed about the final decision.
The missile shield plan had angered Moscow and caused a chill in U.S.-Russian relations despite Washington’s insistence the program was aimed at Iran.
The Bush administration, which had been working on the plan for some time, officially signed the deal with Poland last year in a slap at Moscow for its war with Georgia.
Obama’s Republican rival for the White House, Senator John McCain, criticized the decision, saying it called into question the “security and diplomatic commitments the United States has made to Poland and the Czech Republic.”
House Republican Leader John Boehner said the decision “does little more than empower Russia and Iran at the expense of our allies in Europe.”
U.S. officials portrayed the decision as a shift based on new intelligence showing Iran is more focused on short- and medium-term rockets rather than intercontinental ballistic weapons capable of striking at the United States with nuclear warheads.
The decision would abandon the idea for big fixed installations in Poland for interceptor missiles and in the Czech Republic for a radar system, officials said. They would be replaced by systems the officials described as more versatile.
The missile defense announcement may overshadow developments on the healthcare front. Obama is pushing healthcare reform — his top domestic agenda — at a rally in Maryland later.
The push comes a day after Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus unveiled a healthcare overhaul bill after months of negotiations with Democratic and Republican colleagues — the so-called Gang of Six.
The 10-year, $856 billion plan did not include a public insurance alternative favored by Obama and many other Democrats. It was unclear whether it would win much Republican or Democratic support.
But Baucus portrayed it as a measure that could pass the Senate and would meet Obama’s goal of not adding to the the federal deficit.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office put the cost of the bill even lower — at $774 billion — and said it would shave $49 billion from the deficit over 10 years and cut the number of uninsured people by about 29 million.
Baucus meets with the congressional Democratic caucus to pitch his plan Thursday.
Photo credit: Reuters/Francois Lenoir (Protesters in Czech Republic demonstrate against U.S. missile defense shield plans in April)