President Obama reversed a Bush Administration plan to install missile defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic that had been a thorn in relations with Russia, but said he remains committed to protecting allies from attack.
The move could alienate allies in Central and eastern Europe, who had agreed to host the sites. Obama sought to reassure them, as well as critics who say nixing the plan could allow attacks from rogue nations.
"I've spoken to the presidents of Poland and the Czech Republic and reaffirmed our deep and close ties," Obama said.
Jan Fischer, prime minister of the Czech Republic, told reporters that Obama phoned him overnight to say the U.S. "is pulling out of plans to build a missile defense radar on Czech territory."
Obama made the decision after determining that the threat from Iranian long-range missiles is not as bad as originally feared, and the current European missile defense system has been enhanced to the point the new sites aren't necessary.
The move, which is recommended in findings from a new report to be released next week, represents a major reversal of one of former President Bush’s national security priorities. The Kremlin has accused Washington of trying to contain Russian influence in the region by stealth, an allegation the U.S. denies.
Obama’s announcement met with immediate Republican criticism.
"Scrapping the U.S. missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic does little more than empower Russia and Iran at the expense of our allies in Europe,” House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement.
The Obama administration will shift its missile defense resources elsewhere in Europe to combat a perceived threat from Iranian short- and medium- range missiles.
The new plan "will enhance and ensure the protection of our homeland and our alies," Obama said.