President Maintains Need for Missile Shield President Bush continued to maintain Tuesday that a missile shield in Europe was necessary for the security of the U.S. and NATO allies. That stance has angered Russia.
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President Maintains Need for Missile Shield

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President Maintains Need for Missile Shield

President Maintains Need for Missile Shield

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

President Bush today says he is absolutely committed to building a missile defense system in Europe. But in remarks in Europe, the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, sounds much less certain of that. More coming on that in a moment.

First, the president talked about the threat that Iran poses, clearly, he said - and said the missile-defense system would protect the U.S. and its European allies.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Our intelligence community assesses that with continued foreign assistance, Iran could develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States and all of Europe before 2015. If it chooses to do so and the international community does not take steps to prevent it, it is possible Iran could have this capability. And we need to take it seriously.

CHADWICK: That's President Bush speaking today at the National Defense University in Washington.

Joining us to talk about the president's remarks is NPR White House correspondent David Greene.

David, some tough talk about Iran there.

DAVID GREENE: A lot of tough talk there. And you may remember Alex that Vice-President Dick Cheney also had some tough talk recently. He made headlines this weekend saying Iran is going to face serious consequences if it keeps trying to develop a nuclear weapon. And he said Iran is an obstacle to peace in the Middle East.

And now we've got President Bush coming out today and saying that Iran, within the next decade, will be threatening the U.S. and NATO allies with long-range missiles. And Mr. Bush backs it up with some policy teeth and he insists that this is why the U.S. wants to build a missile-defense system.

And just so everyone understands, this is the idea the president is talking about. He is calling for missiles to be set up in Poland - the missile interceptors as it were - and a radar site in the Czech Republic and together with some other existing missile defense facilities that would theoretically help defend against any long-range missiles fired from the Middle East at the United States or to it's allies in Europe.

CHADWICK: Now, a little more background on this. Just within the last week, President Putin in Russia has been saying this is a terrible idea and the Russians are adamantly against it.

GREENE: Yeah. The Russians have been very angry about this idea for a while. It's caused a lot of the friction between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Bush, that we've seen. And, you know, the real story from today, Alex, might be some reaching out to Russia, you know? Amid all this tough language, President Bush made sure during that speech this morning to try and calm the Russians down. And he made clear to say that these facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic are not aimed to Russia. And for one, he said, Russia could overwhelm them with their nuclear arsenal if they wanted to.

And here's more of Mr. Bush.

Pres. BUSH: Russia has hundreds of missiles and thousands of warheads. We're planning to deploy ten interceptors in Europe. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to do the Math.

CHADWICK: All right. David, at the same time, the Secretary of Defense is in the Czech Republic in Prague. And at a news conference there, Robert Gates kind of suggested that, well, maybe we don't need to put these missiles out there in Europe. Explain those remarks, could you?

GREENE: Well, he - Gates wasn't in the Czech Republic and he - it sounds like they're trying to make a deal with the Russians. We've heard some rumblings about this for a while that a plan was in the works. And today, Gates in Prague, during a news conference, says that there is this concrete proposal out there on the table to delay activating the interceptors and the radar sites right in Russia's backyard.

And here's a little of what the Defense Secretary said.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (Defense Secretary, United States): We would develop the sites, build the sites, but perhaps would delay activating them until there was concrete proof of the threat from Iran.

GREENE: So whether this will satisfy the Russians or not, we don't know yet. There have been some hints from the Russian government that they might be happy with something like this. But we'll have to see.

CHADWICK: Well, here's this kind of seeming kind of compromise suggested by the Secretary of Defense on the very same day, almost at the same moment that Mr. Bush is giving a quite a strong speech in the other direction. What about the coordination here?

GREENE: Well, you know, there's a lot in the air right now. The president wants to signal that the Bush administration remains very tough on Iran and they're, at this moment, pushing for tougher sanctions in the United Nations against Iran and its development of nuclear weapons. But Russia is a critical partner if the U.S. is going to get those sanctions. So while talking tough, this might be one signal so the Russians will work with you on the missile defense shield that's really angered you so much.

CHADWICK: That's good to follow. Thank you.

NPR's David Greene from Washington. Thank you, David.

GREENE: Thank you, Alex.

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