New U.S. Intelligence Report Prompted Obama to Abandon Bush-Era Missile Plan

September 18, 2009 - 4:23 AM
The new assessment asserts Iran is unlikely to have a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile until 2015 to 2020, a U.S. government official familiar with the report told The Associated Press.
Washington (AP) -  President Barack Obama's decision to scrap a Bush-era missile intercept system in Europe was based largely on a new U.S. intelligence assessment that Iran's effort to build a nuclear-capable long-range missile would take three years to five years longer than originally thought, U.S. officials said Thursday.
 
The new assessment asserts Iran is unlikely to have a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile until 2015 to 2020, a U.S. government official familiar with the report told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the report remains classified.
 
Previous intelligence assessed that Iran would have an ICBM capable of menacing Europe and the United States sometime between 2012 and 2015, another U.S. government official said.
 
The assessment changed because Iran has not been conducting the kind of observable development and testing that would be expected to accompany a robust long-range missile program, the second official said.
 
The new assessment was contained in a classified May 2009 National Intelligence Estimate. The secret report is called "Foreign Ballistic Missile Development and Threat Through 2020." National Intelligence Estimates contain the consensus judgment of all 16 American intelligence agencies about critical national security issues.
 
Obama on Thursday abruptly canceled a long-planned missile shield for Eastern Europe, replacing the Bush-era project that was strongly opposed by Russia with a plan the president contended would better defend against a growing threat of Iranian missiles.
 
The United States no longer will seek to erect a missile base and radar site in Poland and the Czech Republic, virtually on Russia's doorstep. President George W. Bush contended that the missile base was needed to shoot down any Iranian missile if it ever developed one with adequate range to threaten the United States or Europe. The U.S. already has a similar missile site and radar in Alaska.
 
The ability of the missile intercept system to reliably shoot down an enemy ICBM has not yet been proven in tests that simulate real-world conditions.
 
The new Obama plan would deploy systems designed to shoot down short- and medium-range missiles, with construction in phases to begin around 2011. Systems to counter longer-range missiles would be in place around 2020.
 
The Obama administration said the shift is a common sense answer to the evolution of both the threat and the U.S. understanding of it. Iran has not shown that it is close to being able to lob a long-range missile, perhaps with a nuclear warhead, at U.S. allies in Europe.
 
The May report and associated analysis represents the second major revision of U.S. intelligence on Iran's weapons in two years. In 2007, a national intelligence estimate said Iran had in 2003 halted work on the design of a nuclear weapon for at least several years.
 
The key judgments of that report were released publicly.
 
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Associated Press writer Anne Gearan contributed to this report.