Monday, March 23, 2009


WASHINGTON — A candidate for a top nonproliferation post in the Obama administration played down today the threat from Iran’s long-range missile program as a reason to build a European missile defense system.

Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher is under consideration to be undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, a position that has involved shaping policy on U.S. missile defense plans in Poland and the Czech Republic. As chair of a congressional military appropriations panel, she has been a critic of U.S. long-range missile defense systems.

Her comments come as the Obama administration is reviewing the European missile defense plans and has signaled to Russia that it is willing to reconsider them, if the threat from Iran recedes. Russia has adamantly opposed the European plans, which it believes would undermine its nuclear deterrent and encroach on its interests.

Advocates of the U.S. plans in Europe argue that missile defense systems should be urgently deployed to counter Iran, which the United States has estimated could have missiles capable of reaching Europe or America within a decade. Tauscher said that the threat has been exaggerated.

She told a conference on missile defense that the United States and allies should first develop and field short range missile defense systems that could protect forces deployed in combat operations. She said that advocates of the European plans "have been running around with their hair on fire."

"The argument that the U.S. would be naked against an Iranian threat unless we deploy the GMD system in Europe is simply not right," she said, referring to the long range system.

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