The Post reports this morning that a team of US and Russian technical experts want to put the kibosh on US plans for putting a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic:
A planned U.S. missile shield to protect Europe from a possible Iranian attack would be ineffective against the kinds of missiles Iran is likely to deploy, according to a joint analysis by top U.S. and Russian scientists.
The U.S.-Russian team also judged that it would be more than five years before Iran is capable of building both a nuclear warhead and a missile capable of carrying it over long distances. And if Iran attempted such an attack, the experts say, it would ensure its own destruction.
They concluded that the missile system isn’t important, in part, because, well, the threat isn’t there:
“The missile threat from Iran to Europe is thus not imminent,” the 12-member technical panel concludes in a report produced by the EastWest Institute, an independent think tank based in Moscow, New York and Belgium.
Their conclusions were reviewed by William Perry, President Clinton’s secretary of defense, who is a titan of the military-industrial complex and no dove. They’ll be presented to Jim Jones, President Obama’s national security adviser.
It’s clear that the Obama administration is quietly building the case that this provocative plan, pushed hard by George W. Bush and Co., isn’t needed and won’t work.
There are two angles to this story: first, it’s an important step in rebuilding relations with Russia — or pushing the famous “reset” button — which is a big step in itself. Second, it’s part of a judicious and careful Obama opening to Iran, downgrading the alleged threat from that country, and boosting chances that the opening might succeed.
On Iran, yesterday, Obama seemed to stand firm against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s efforts to ring every alarm bell he could find. Despite Netanyahu, and despite coordinated calls from Netanyahu’s US allies, Obama refused to set a deadline for talks with Iran, making it clear that such talks are open-ended. He did suggest that perhaps, by year’s end, he might be able to make a judgment about how things are going, but that’s far from the kind of short-fuse deadline that Netanyahu and the neocons want. Here’s the full text of Obama’s comments in that regard:
You know, I don’t want to set an artificial deadline. I think it’s important to recognize that Iran is in the midst of its own elections. As I think all of you, since you’re all political reporters, are familiar with, election time is not always the best time to get business done.
Their elections will be completed in June, and we are hopeful that, at that point, there is going to be a serious process of engagement, first through the P5-plus-one process that’s already in place, potentially through additional direct talks between the United States and Iran.
I want to reemphasize what I said earlier, that I believe it is not only in the interest of the international community that Iran not develop nuclear weapons, I firmly believe it is in Iran’s interest not to develop nuclear weapons, because it would trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and be profoundly destabilizing in all sorts of ways. Iran can achieve its interests of security and international respect and prosperity for its people through other means, and I am prepared to make what I believe will be a persuasive argument, that there should be a different course to be taken.
The one thing we’re also aware of is the fact that the history, of least, of negotiation with Iran is that there is a lot of talk but not always action and follow-through. And that’s why it is important for us, I think, without having set an artificial deadline, to be mindful of the fact that we’re not going to have talks forever. We’re not going to create a situation in which talks become an excuse for inaction while Iran proceeds with developing a nuclear — and deploying a nuclear weapon. That’s something, obviously, Israel is concerned about, but it’s also an issue of concern for the United States and for the international community as a whole.
My expectation would be that if we can begin discussions soon, shortly after the Iranian elections, we should have a fairly good sense by the end of the year as to whether they are moving in the right direction and whether the parties involved are making progress and that there’s a good faith effort to resolve differences. That doesn’t mean every issue would be resolved by that point, but it does mean that we’ll probably be able to gauge and do a reassessment by the end of the year of this approach.
Perfect, in my opinion.
Meanwhile, the panel of experts examining the Iranian missile threat concluded that any danger to Europe, and to Israel, too, presumably, is years away:
They conclude that it would take Iran at least another six to eight years to produce a missile with enough range to reach Southern Europe and that only illicit foreign assistance or a concerted and highly visible, decade-long effort might produce the breakthroughs needed for a nuclear-tipped missile to threaten the United States.
Advice to Bibi: don’t have a cow.