Obama vows to build missile shield in stand-off with Iran
The United States will continue to develop a missile defence shield until Iran abandons its nuclear ambitions, President Barack Obama said yesterday.
"As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defence system that is cost-effective and proven," he told a crowd of about 20,000 gathered in Hradcany Square, Prague.
"Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran's neighbours and our allies."
He hailed the "courageous" Czech Republic and Poland for "agreeing to host a defence against these missiles". Russia is strongly opposed to radar stations for a missile defence shield being established in countries that it still regarded as within its sphere of influence.
But Mr Obama also spoke of the potential for a rapprochement with Iran that would remove the need for such a system. "If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defence construction in Europe will be removed," he said.
Tehran, he said, had a choice. "We want Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations, politically and economically. We will support Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorous inspections. That is a path that the Islamic Republic can take."
The centrepiece of Mr Obama's speech was a declaration that because the United States had dropped two atom bombs on Japan in 1945 it had a "moral responsibility" to work towards securing "a world without nuclear weapons".
He said nuclear weapons were the "most dangerous legacy of the Cold War" and the risk of a nuclear attack had never been greater because "terrorists are determined to buy, build or steal one".
The crowd enthusiastically cheered the more idealistic parts of Mr Obama's speech but was relatively subdued when he spoke about his backing for missile defence.
Petr Sramek (33) was among those disappointed that Mr Obama had not dropped a policy that was opposed by more than two-thirds of Czechs.
"I really liked the clear message on nuclear disarmament but I am against the missile defence system. It is more about geopolitical influence than defence against missiles."
Alena Protivinska (30) described herself as a "big fan" of Mr Obama but accused him of "hypocrisy" for urging world peace while also pushing forward with the divisive missile shield.
"He sounded like George W Bush saying that we should be afraid in order to justify missile defence."
Mr Obama also denounced "fatalism" over nuclear proliferation, adding: "As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act," he said.
"We cannot succeed in this endeavour alone, but we can lead it.
"So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment and desire to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons."