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Obama: Missile Defense Changes Not About Russia

U.S. President Barack Obama walks out of the Oval office on September 14

U.S. President Barack Obama walks out of the Oval office on September 14

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- President Barack Obama said he hopes his new missile defense plan for Europe will make Russia "less paranoid," but denied he scrapped a previous plan to install an antimissile defense system in eastern Europe to placate Moscow.

Obama made his comments in an interview aired on CBS' "Face the Nation" program on September 20.

Since announcing on September 18 that he had shelved the plan of his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, and replaced it with a new version, Obama has come under withering fire from Republican critics who saw the move as a unilateral concession to Russia.

Moscow had protested the Bush plan to counter the threat of long-range missiles launched by Iran because it would be based in the Czech Republic and Poland.

Obama, in an interview taped on September 18 with CBS' "Face the Nation," said his decision should not be seen as a concession to Moscow.

"The Russians don't make determinations about what our defense posture is," he said. "We have made a decision about what will be best to protect the American people as well as our troops in Europe and our allies."

Obama has been frustrated by Russia's refusal to join U.S.-led efforts to stiffen United Nations sanctions against Iran, which denies charges by Western powers that it is developing a nuclear weapon.

"If the byproduct of it is that the Russians feel a little less paranoid and are now willing to work more effectively with us to deal with threats like ballistic missiles from Iran or nuclear development in Iran, you know, then that's a bonus," Obama said.

Obama is to meet this week with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in New York where both are attending the U.N. General Assembly.

Under Obama's new plan, the United States would initially deploy ships with missile interceptors and in a second phase would field land-based defense systems.

It is intended to counter a potential threat from Iranian short- and medium-range missiles. U.S. intelligence now believes Iran is unlikely to have a long-range missile until between 2015 and 2020.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has described Obama's decision as "correct and brave." And Russia's deputy defense minister was quoted as saying on Saturday that Russia will not deploy new missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave as a result of the new U.S. plans.

Republican criticism of Obama's decision has not let up.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2012, told Reuters he was troubled by the move.

"I find it alarming and dangerous that this president has abandoned our friends in eastern Europe to curry favor with our foes in Russia," he said.

Obama said he believed the new plan will install a defense system that is "more timely, more cost effective, and that meets the actual threats that we perceive coming from Iran."