MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. President Obama announced today the U.S. is changing course on a controversial defense system. The Bush Administration had planned to build an anti-missile shield in Poland in the Czech Republic. It's said the system would protect Europe and the U.S. from Iran. But Russia viewed it as a direct threat. Today, President Obama says the new plan puts missile interceptors on ships. The World's Jason Margolis begins our coverage.
JASON MARGOLIS: President Obama said today that he approved the new anti-missile system following the unanimous recommendations of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Our new missile defense architecture in Europe will provide stronger, smarter and swifter defense of American forces and America's allies. It is more comprehensive than the previous program. It deploys capabilities that are proven and cost-effective, and it sustains and builds upon our commitment to protect the U.S. homeland against long-range ballistic missile threats.
MARGOLIS: Marine General James Cartwright spoke after the President. He said the first phase of the new plan will be the deployment of radar and tested missiles aboard ships.
GENERAL CARTWRIGHT: That system we have started to deploy to the Eastern Mediterranean already, and we will begin to deploy that in larger numbers.
MARGOLIS: Cartwright said phase two will contain improved, land-based missiles that could be placed in Europe. That stage will be ready in about six to seven years. President Obama emphasized that the change in strategy had little to do with Russia's protests against the Bush Administration's defense shield.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: We've also repeatedly made clear to Russia that its concerns about our previous missile defense programs were entirely unfounded. Our clear and consistent focus has been the threat posed by Iran's ballistic missile program, and that continues to be our focus and the basis of the program that we're announcing today.
MARGOLIS: Steven Pifer at the Brookings Institution says the change of course wasn't a matter of diplomacy.
STEVEN PIFER: My understanding of talking to people in the administration is that this was first and foremost about how do you deal with the Iranian threat in smart way? And it was informed by an intelligence assessment that said the Iranians are actually making more progress than we thought on shorter-range missiles. And they seem to be making less progress on longer-range missiles. So the question is how do you defend those parts of Europe, such as Turkey which are close to Iran, against a threat that's today, as opposed to worrying about the threat that may emerge 10 years down the road?
MARGOLIS: Some analysts say the president should have extracted something politically from Russia for changing the plan. Former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack Matlock, says that's ridiculous.
JACK MATLOCK: That's naï¿½ve. If you do it in your own interest, you can't expect somebody else to pay you for that.
MARGOLIS: Matlock, who was appointed ambassador by Ronald Reagan, says the new missile defense plan is strategically far superior to the Bush Administration's proposal. Matlock adds, the new system removes a wedge in U.S./Russian relations.
For the World, I'm Jason Margolis.