Obama: Missile defense decision not about Russia
President Barack Obama sharply dismisses criticism that Russian opposition influenced his decision to scrap a European missile defense system, calling it merely a bonus if the leaders of Russia end up "a little less paranoid" about the U.S., Associated Press reported.
"My task here was not to negotiate with the Russians," Obama told CBS' "Face the Nation" in an interview for broadcast Sunday. "The Russians don't make determinations about what our defense posture is."
The president's comments were his first on the matter since he abruptly announced on Thursday that he was scuttling plans to deploy 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a related radar in the Czech Republic. That shield had been proposed under President George W. Bush.
Russia condemned it is a threat to its security despite years of U.S. assurances to the contrary.
In its place will be a different missile-defense plan relying on a network of sensors and interceptor missiles based at sea, on land and in the air. Obama says that adapts to the most pressing threat from Iran to U.S. troops and allies in Europe, potential attacks by short- and medium-range missiles.
Yet at home and abroad, Obama's decision immediately raised a political question of whether it was done in part to appease Russia and win its help in other areas, mainly in confronting the potential of a nuclear-armed Iran. That point was underscored when Russia lauded the change.
In an interview with CBS News that was taped Friday, Obama was pressed on why he did not seek anything in exchange from Russia.
"Russia had always been paranoid about this, but George Bush was right. This wasn't a threat to them," Obama said. "And this program will not be a threat to them."
He added: "If the byproduct of it is that the Russians feel a little less paranoid and are now willing to work more effectively with us to deal with threats like ballistic missiles from Iran or nuclear development in Iran, you know, then that's a bonus."
Russia said Saturday that it will scrap a plan to deploy missiles near Poland since Obama dumped the planned missile shield in Eastern Europe.
Russia's Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin said Obama's move made the deployment of short-range missiles in the Kaliningrad region unnecessary, and he called the U.S. president's decision a "victory of reason over ambitions."
Washington is counting on Moscow to help raise pressure on Tehran over its disputed nuclear program, although there are no clear signs that will happen.