PRAGUE, Apr 5 – US President Barack Obama said Sunday that he would move forward with a controversial plan to base a missile defence shield in central Europe, saying the threat posed by Iran remained real.
"Let me be clear: Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbours and our allies," Obama said in a speech in Prague.
"The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defence against these missiles. As long as the threat from Iran persists, we intend to go forward with a missile defence system that is cost-effective and proven."
The plan to base the shield system in Poland and the Czech Republic, unveiled by Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush, has been fiercely denounced by Moscow.
Obama stressed the aim of the shield was to counter Iran, which insists that its ongoing nuclear programme is only designed to meet energy needs, and indicated the plan would be dropped when Iran is no longer deemed a threat.
"As long as the threat from Iran persists, we intend to go forward with a missile defence system that is cost-effective and proven," he said.
"If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defence construction in Europe at this time will be removed," he added.
Obama said that Iran had yet to build a nuclear weapon and his administration would try to engage Tehran, to whom he has already made overtures, and present it with a choice.
"We want Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations, politically and economically. We will support Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorous inspections. That is a path that the Islamic Republic can take," he said.
"Or the government can choose increased isolation, international pressure, and a potential nuclear arms race in the region that will increase insecurity for all."