By Andrew F. Tully, RFE/RLWASHINGTON -- Iran's latest test of a rocket that it says can reach as far as Europe adds new urgency to the U.S. plan, initiated by former President George W. Bush, to build a missile-defense system in Eastern Europe. Or does it?
Launching of Sejil surface-to-surface missile
The EastWest Institute (EWI) has issued a report written by a joint team of U.S. and Russian scientists and technical experts that says Iran isn't close to building either a nuclear warhead or a reliable missile to deliver one. That day, the think tank's report calculates, may be as much as a decade away.
"The [U.S. missile-defense] system was designed to only handle one or at most two missiles from Iran," says Phillip Coyle, a former weapons expert in the U.S. Defense Department and one of the scientists who contributed to the EWI report.
"If you want to believe that Iran would attack Europe, and you take the assumption that the Bush administration made that it would only launch one or maybe two missiles, and then sit back and wait for the consequences," Coyle says, laughing. "You know, that's hard to believe."
Coyle says that the U.S. and Russian scientists and experts worked together in part to assess as precisely as they could the nature of the Iranian threat. They concluded that a nuclear threat from Iran to Europe is not only not imminent, but there's no logical reason why such a threat should be perceived in the first place.
"Do you actually believe that Iran would be so suicidal that they would attack Europe with nuclear weapons?" asks Coyle, who is now a senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information, a Washington policy research center. "If Iran were ever to do something like that, it would be absolutely suicidal. It would justify a massive, massive retaliation.
"Personally, I don't believe that Iran is that crazy. Iran has done some reckless things, but I don't think they're suicidal."
Allay Russian Suspicions
Meanwhile, Coyle says, Russia has consistently opposed the U.S. defense shield, saying the placement of missiles in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic indicates that its real target is Russia. Moscow says it's not convinced by Washington's argument that it targets only so-called "rogue states" such as Iran.
The EWI report says the best way to allay Russian suspicions is for the United States to scrap the current plans and restart a missile-defense program in collaboration with Russia.
Coyle says locating the radar in Russia, as Vladimir Putin proposed when he was the Russian president, would improve the system for two important reasons.
|"Under the Obama administration, there have been signals that there is more flexibility with regard to the deployment in Poland and the Czech Republic."|
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