WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Obama administration has said it was undecided about a Bush-era plan to put U.S. missile defenses in Eastern Europe, which has been fiercely opposed by Russia and strained bilateral ties.
"No final decisions have been made regarding missile defense in Europe," Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Lynn described a plan initiated by former President George W. Bush to install 10 two-stage interceptor missiles in Poland plus a related radar station in the Czech Republic as only "one option" under review.
He said Washington also was exploring expanded missile-defense cooperation with Russia as a possible means of countering a perceived threat from Iranian ballistic missiles.
"The United States will work to identify new areas where our two countries could advance our missile defense cooperation," Lynn said. "For example, there are Russian radars near Iran that would provide helpful early-warning detection in the case of an Iranian ballistic missile launch."
The possible use of these radar stations -- in southern Russia and Azerbaijan, one of them only about 100 kilometers from Iran -- would be discussed when President Barack Obama travels to Moscow from July 6 to 8, Lynn said.
Obama hopes to build on calls from both capitals to "reset" ties strained over the proposed expansion of U.S. missile defense close to Russia's borders among other things.
Moscow, smarting from the entry of several former Warsaw Pact allies into NATO, says the plans are a threat to Russian security.
On April 5 Obama said the United States would go ahead with a missile-defense system that is "cost-effective and proven" as long as a threat from Iran persists.
"If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile-defense construction in Europe at this time will be removed," he said in a major speech on the subject in Prague.
Republican Warns Against U.S. Hesitation
Obama, a Democrat, has tried to reach out to Tehran after three decades of hostility but turmoil in Iran after the June 12 presidential election has raised new questions about Iran's future and the possibility of U.S.-Iranian talks.
Republican Senator Jeff Sessions said U.S. hesitation over the antimissile plan would "undermine the Poles' and the Czechs' willingness" to host the installations.
The parliaments of the two countries have not yet ratified the proposed installations on their soil. Poland is due to receive U.S.-built Patriot PAC-3 antimissile batteries as part of the deal.
Marine Corps General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the committee that any U.S. missile-defense partnership with Russia likely would be the most effective way to curb an Iranian threat.
"That would be very powerful," he said.
Army Lieutenant General Patrick O'Reilly, head of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, testified that Iran's successful February 2 launch of a space vehicle demonstrated "technologies that are directly applicable" to the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said the U.S. goal was to work with Russia to develop a system that provides more coverage to Europe.
Baker Spring, a missile-defense expert at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative advocacy and research group, said any Obama administration wavering may erode public support for putting U.S. missile-defense facilities in Europe.