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US: Missile defense work needed, N.Korea must change

  The United States will continue developing anti-missile defenses as long as an Iranian nuclear threat persists, and North Korea must be made to change after its rocket launch, US President Barack Obama said on Sunday.

Obama’s administration had been cool on a deal reached by his predecessor, George W. Bush, to put radar in the Czech Republic and interceptor rockets in Poland to shoot down missiles fired by countries like Iran or North Korea.

But the issue grabbed the spotlight on Sunday after North Korea launched a long-range missile, drawing condemnation from the international community although Pyongyang said it had only put a satellite in orbit.

During a visit to the Czech capital on Sunday, Obama said Washington would continue with the plan as long as Iran was developing its nuclear program. “As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with the missile system,” Obama said in a speech. “If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile construction in Europe will be removed.”

Earlier Gary Samore, White House coordinator for arms control, said the North Korean launch meant missile defense would remain a priority. “The North Korean test illustrates the importance of continuing to develop missile defence in order to protect ... both the country and our allies in Asia,” Samore told reporters.

Samore said international unity would be the most effective way to confront North Korea, saying that its rocket launch was not only a threat to neighbours South Korea and Japan but also “damages” Russia and China.

The Czechs and Poles have signed treaties with Washington on the missile defense plan, angering their former Soviet master Russia.

CZECHS SAY SHIELD NECESSARY

A majority of Czechs oppose the missile defense plan and the Socialist opposition says it will make the central European country a target rather than protect it. But the outgoing Czech government has made the plan a priority and says it is key to countering Russia’s continued influence in the European Union’s eastern wing. The Czech Foreign Ministry said the US comments confirmed its belief that the missile defense plan was needed.

Moscow has accused the United States of trying to meddle in its former sphere of influence.

It has threatened to point nuclear weapons at Prague and Warsaw and to station missiles in its European enclave Kaliningrad. US White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said North Korea’s launch was not unexpected. “Had at any moment we determined that this launch posed a threat to the United States of America, we would have taken whatever steps were necessary to ensure the safety and security of American people.” (Reuters)