US lawmaker: Iranian missile threat exaggerated

Democratic Rep. Tauscher downplays risk from Teheran, while chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee says US, Russia to discuss defense.

Iran missile bloody cool 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Iran missile bloody cool 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
A candidate for a top nonproliferation post in the Obama administration played down on Monday the threat from Iran's long-range missile program as a reason to build a European missile defense system. Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher is under consideration to be undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, a position that has involved shaping policy on US missile defense plans in Poland and the Czech Republic. As chair of a congressional military appropriations panel, she has been a critic of US long-range missile defense systems. Her comments came as the Obama administration was reviewing the European missile defense plans, and has signaled to Russia that it is willing to reconsider them, should the threat from Iran recede. Russia has adamantly opposed the European plans, which it believes would undermine its nuclear deterrent and encroach on its interests. On another defense matter involving Russia, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, told the same conference on missile defense the subject will be at the center of a new set of security talks between Washington and Moscow and could become "a positive political tool" rather than an impediment to better US-Russian relations. Advocates of the US defense plans for Europe argue that missile defense systems should be deployed urgently to counter Iran, which the United States has estimated could have missiles capable of reaching Europe or America within a decade. Congresswoman Tauscher said the threat has been exaggerated. She told a conference on missile defense that the United States and allies should first develop and field short-range missile defense systems that could protect forces deployed in combat operations. She said advocates of the European plans "have been running around with their hair on fire." "The argument that the US would be naked against an Iranian threat unless we deploy the GMD system in Europe is simply not right," she said, referring to the long-range system. Levin suggested that the United States and Russia should set aside their differences on missile defense and begin cooperating against Iran to make a decisive difference toward weakening Iran as a missile threat and start US-Russian cooperation on defenses against Iranian missiles. Russia strongly opposes the plan crafted by the Bush administration and under review by the Obama administration to place US missile interceptors in Poland and an associated radar in the Czech Republic. European defense from a long-range Iranian missile attack is the stated purpose. Levin did not suggest that the Obama administration bargain away the Bush-era plan, although there has been speculation that US President Barack Obama would offer to scrap that plan in return for Russian help in persuading Iran to end its alleged nuclear program. "Even if we were simply to begin serious discussions on the subject [it] would send a powerful signal to Iran," Levin said. "Iran would face in a dramatic way a growing unity against her pursuit of dangerous nuclear technology." Later he added, "The bottom line is simple: We have a new opportunity to seek a cooperative approach with Russia on missile defense, and we should seize it. The upside potential of such an effort is huge, a geopolitical game changer. The downside is minimal." Levin cited two matters the United States and Russia could take up immediately: a previous Russian offer to share data from an early warning radar in Azerbaijan, on Iran's northern border, and a never-executed US-Russian agreement to open a facility in Moscow for sharing missile-related data. Speaking at the same conference, Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said those who develop US missile defenses must take into account that adversaries are increasingly likely to use means other than traditional ballistic missiles in any attack on US interests. "Ballistic missiles are about as passe as e-mail," Cartwright said. "Nobody does it anymore." Instead the emerging threat is missiles that can be maneuvered in flight and missiles that remain inside Earth's atmosphere, he said. Thus missile defenses must be flexible and adaptable enough to be useful against a range of threats, he added.