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Iran Missile Work Likely to Impact Rollout of ICBM Interceptor: Ex-U.S. Envoy

By Rachel Oswald

Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON-- Iran’s progress in ballistic missile development is likely to figure heavily into a final U.S. decision on placing next-generation missile interceptors in Europe, a former senior Obama administration diplomat said on Tuesday.

The final phase of the Obama plan for European missile defense calls for advanced missile interceptors to be deployed in Poland around 2020 to counter Iran’s feared development of an ICBM that could be tipped with nuclear warheads.

However, the conceptual SM-3 Block 2B interceptor has yet to move off the drawing board, in part due to a lack of funding from Capitol Hill. At the same time, congressional researchers recently assessed Tehran was unlikely to develop a continent-spanning high-altitude missile before 2016. This comes as Russia continues to stridently object to the planned fielding of the Block 2B missile, which it fears could undermine strategic stability in Europe.

Ellen Tauscher, the Obama administration’s one-time special envoy for strategic stability and missile defense, said “if the threat [from Iran] gets mitigated, lots of things could change.”

“We’re going to make our deployments. We’ve said that but you know I’m not too sure the 2B would go to Europe,” said Tauscher, who left the administration at the beginning of September.

“I bet if the Iranians are still busily being bad, 2B will be in Europe,” she said at a forum organized by the American Security Project. “But, if all of a sudden things change and no long-range rocket, no nuclear weapon out of Iran that changes things” on the merits of deploying the interceptor.

President Obama has “always said the [European missile shield] was adaptive and based around the threat. So we’ve made this point to the Russians,” Tauscher said.

The ballistic missile shield the U.S. is pursuing with NATO allies involves the gradual fielding of increasingly capable missile interceptors in Romania and Poland and on warships home ported in Spain. Washington and Brussels maintain the system is aimed at defending against potential short- and medium-range missile strikes from the Middle East, particularly Iran.

The United States and other Western allies suspect Iran of pursuing a nuclear weapons capability under the cover of its ostensibly civilian atomic energy program. Tehran denies these claims. An increasingly tighter circle of international sanctions against Iran’s oil and financial sectors have to date failed to coerce Tehran into giving up its controversial uranium enrichment program.

The SM-3 Block 2B is envisioned as having the ability to destroy medium- and intermediate range ballistic missiles as well as first-generation ICBMs in the early stages of flight. U.S. officials have repeatedly emphasized to Russia that the theoretical interceptor would not be a match for its more advanced ICBMs.

“It would only chase the tail of Russian ICBMs, you could put it on top of it, it would still only chase the tail,” said Tauscher, who formerly served as the State Department’s undersecretary for arms control and international security. U.S. missile defenses in Europe are “not robust enough to hold their nuclear arsenal at risk. Period,” she continued.

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