US 'to cut missile defence plan'

The paper said it would be dropped because Iran's long-range missile plans were less advanced than predicted.

Czech officials said Barack Obama had spoken to their prime minister, while a Polish official said the shield might no longer be deployed in Poland.

The plan antagonised Russia, which saw it as a direct threat.

President Obama ordered a review of the defence system, introduced by his predecessor George W Bush.

In August 2008, the US signed a deal with Poland to site interceptors at a base near the Baltic Sea, and with the Czech Republic to build a radar station on its territory.

A Czech government spokesman said Mr Obama spoke to Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer on Wednesday, but declined to release further details.

European protection

The missile shield was expected to be fully operational by 2012.

Washington said the European sites were needed to protect European allies and US forces in Europe from Iran or another country.

However, the Wall Street Journal reported: "The US will base its decision on a determination that Iran's long-range missile program has not progressed as rapidly as previously estimated, reducing the threat to the continental US and major European capitals, according to current and former US officials."

The newspaper, quoting unnamed sources, said the White House would order "a shift towards the development of regional missile defences for the Continent" to combat the threat from Iran's short- and medium-range missiles.

An announcement is expected later by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and military staff at a news conference , the Associated Press reported.

Iranian talks

Iran says its missile development programme is solely for scientific, surveillance or defensive purposes, but there are concerns in the West and among Iran's neighbours that the rockets could be used to carry nuclear weapons.

As part of long-running efforts to tackle the issue, Iran will hold talks on its nuclear programme on 1 October with the UK, China, France, Russia and the US - the five permanent UN Security Council members - and Germany.

The Wall Street Journal said the Obama administration "was expected to leave open the option of restarting the Polish and Czech system if Iran makes advances in its long-range missiles in the future."

Russia saw the US missile plan as a direct threat to itself, despite US assurances that it was aimed at "rogue" states, such as Iran.

A Russian foreign minister spokesman was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying Russia was awaiting confirmation of the reports.

"In principle, such a development of the situation would correspond to the interests of the development of our bilateral relations with the USA," the spokesman said.

In November, Russia moved its own ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad, between Nato member states Lithuania and Poland to "neutralise - if necessary - the [US] anti-missile system", President Dmitry Medvedev said at the time.

Mr Medvedev also said Russia would jam the US anti-missile system electronically.


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