WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday a final decision on deployment of a missile shield in eastern and central Europe hinged in part on Iran’s willingness to curb its nuclear ambitions.
“This is one of those issues that really will rest with the decisions made by the Iranian government,” Clinton said of plans to install radar in the Czech Republic and interceptor rockets in Poland to shield against ballistic missiles fired by “rogue” countries like Iran.
“If we are able to see a change in behaviour on the part of the Iranians with respect to what we believe to be their pursuit of nuclear weapons, then we will reconsider where we stand,” she told reporters after meeting Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg.
The U.S. missile shield plans have rankled Moscow, which sees the system as a threat and opposes the deployment on the territory of its former communist satellites.
At a security conference in Germany last weekend, Vice President Joe Biden said the United States would continue to develop the missile shield but that it was time to “reset” fractious relations with Russia.
The United States works with Russia and other major powers on reining in Iran’s nuclear plans but Moscow has balked at more punitive measures against Tehran, partly because of clashes with Washington over issues like missile defence.
Clinton said last week the Obama administration wanted to work more closely with Russia on tackling Iran’s nuclear ambitions and some analysts believe such cooperation could result in U.S. compromises on missile defence.
Russian officials recently said Moscow would not install Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad if the United States does not deploy the missile shield, a move widely interpreted as a goodwill gesture towards new U.S. President Barack Obama.
After meeting Schwarzenberg, Clinton praised the Czechs for “stepping up and being a partner to provide a strong defence in Europe against Iranian aggression.”
She said they had a “good” discussion of the missile shield plans, which the Czech Senate approved last year.
“We are first and foremost very grateful to the Czech Republic ... for working with us to try to deter the threat from Iran,” Clinton said.
Obama has said final decisions on installing the missile defence system rest on questions of cost effectiveness and technical feasibility.
Clinton said questions about the plan were largely technical but she repeated the frequent Obama administration line that the Iranians had an opportunity to “unclench their fist” and curtail their nuclear program.
“If the Iranians continue on this path, certainly one of the options for free countries, the Czech Republic, other Europeans and the United States, is to defend ourselves,” Clinton said.
“We have to be realistic. Our slogan can be hope for the best but plan for the worst,” she said.
“I think what the Czech government and the Polish government did in saying we want to be prepared in the event that we are unable to dissuade, deter the Iranians from pursuing nuclear weapons makes a great deal of sense.”
Editing by John O'Callaghan