The announcement that the Obama administration is canceling missile defense deployments in Eastern Europe may be part of a trade that includes sending other missiles to Turkey, a European diplomat has said.
The decision to scrap the deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic came days after the administration announced the proposed sale of Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile batteries and related gear to Turkey.
A new missile defense shield for Europe unveiled by President Barack Obama late on Thursday would focus on short- and medium-range missiles from Iran, instead of longer-range weapons that have yet to be built. “Our new missile defense architecture in Europe will provide stronger, smarter and swifter defenses of American forces and America's allies,” Obama said at the White House.
A European diplomat, who asked not to be named because he was discussing intergovernmental discussions, said the United States was looking for a less costly alternative more in tune with its evaluation of Iran's missile program.
“This was a costly program,” he said of the scrapped deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic. “They may find other ways to do this was less cost … with missiles of a different type in theater,” he told the Washington Times.
The diplomat added that the reported sale of Patriot anti-missile systems to Turkey “could be part of that assessment.” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the proposed sale to Turkey, of which Congress was notified on Friday, was not part of the new missile defense strategy.
However, the White House said the shift in strategy is away from fixed missile defense positions in Eastern Europe and toward a system it said will be more flexible and adaptable, and focused on short- and mid-range missiles from Iran rather than long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Iran's medium-range missiles could hit Turkey and some other NATO members as well as Israel and most Arab states, experts say. Obama did not give any hints over the whereabouts of the new missile defense system, but Turkish media reports suggested on Friday that the U.S. administration might consider offering a role to Turkey in new program. Turkey – or the Balkans, but not Eastern Europe – would be one of the best places to set up a missile defense system to deal with Iran, a close aide on missile plans for Obama was quoted as saying by daily Hürriyet.
The Turkish Embassy in Washington referred questions to the Pentagon and defense officials in Ankara. Turkey is a NATO ally and neighbor of Iran that has had good relations with the Islamic republic and may host multilateral negotiations about the Iranian nuclear program on Oct. 1.
Obama traveled to Turkey during his first major trip abroad as president in April, visiting both the capital and Istanbul. He said at the time that his visit was "a statement about the importance of Turkey not just to the United States but to the world," because it is a Muslim majority nation that straddles Europe and the Middle East.