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WASHINGTON: The United States is ready to abandon the final phase of its European missile defence system, a US official said yesterday, in a move that could revive arms control talks with Russia.
As part of plans announced Friday to deploy more anti-missile batteries in Alaska to thwart potential strikes from North Korea, the United States intends to “restructure” its missile defence programme in Europe, an administration official said.
President Barack Obama’s plan for Europe had envisaged SM-3 interceptors on land and sea that would be upgraded and steadily improved over four stages.
The final phase of the missile-killing interceptor, known as SM-3 IIB, was due to be deployed within about 10 years in Poland and possibly Romania, with a more powerful booster rocket and other advanced hardware.
But the final phase “is being restructured due to congressional funding cuts and changing technology,” the administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
“The goal is to research what alternative there could be to the original SM-3 IIB plan,” the official said.
The decision could cause dismay in Poland and Romania but likely will be welcomed in Moscow, as Russian officials had seen the more sophisticated interceptor as aimed at its missile arsenal and undercutting its nuclear deterrent.
The issue had become an obstacle to any progress on further arms control agreements and analysts say scrapping the final block of interceptors could create momentum for fresh negotiations.
But the administration official insisted the decision was based on financial and technical considerations and not meant as a signal to Moscow.