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Missile defense suffers setbacks

Czech government delays treaty vote as Iran tests a missile.

An Iranian missile that state media says is a Sajjil-2 surface-to-surface missile is seen in front of a banner with a picture of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, at an unknown place in Semnan, 228 km (142 miles) east of Tehran, May 18, 2009. (Fars News/Reuters)

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — U.S. missile defense plans for Europe, once a foreign policy priority, have suffered a series of setbacks in the past two days.

The Czech Republic's interim government announced Wednesday that it will not put missile defense ratification on the parliamentary agenda during its time in office, a fresh blow to U.S. plans. That decision came after a clutch of new developments in the United States, Russia and Iran.

A newly released report, co-authored by a team of U.S. and Russian experts, is highly critical of the U.S. missile defense plans, which call for 10 interceptors in Poland and an accompanying radar base in the Czech Republic.

The Bush administration aggressively pursued the system's development, claiming the United States and its European allies needed to protect themselves from an Iranian missile strike.

But the U.S.-Russia report casts doubt on the system's ability to protect either the U.S. or Europe while noting that Iran currently has virtually no capability to attack.

Ted Postol, an expert on the physics and engineering behind missile technology and a co-author of the report, was unequivocal in his assessment.

“The radar has no chance of doing the job,” nor do the interceptors, he said bluntly. “The technical capabilities are not there, and they will not be there. On the bright side, the threat is not there and will not be there,” he said, speaking of Iran.

Meanwhile, in Tehran, Iran's government announced it had successfully launched its latest medium-range missile — the solid-fuel Sajjil-2 — with a range of 1,200 miles, capable of reaching not only Israel, but American bases in the Persian Gulf.

Wednesday's missile launch notwithstanding, fears of an Iranian attack appear to be years away from being realized, Postol said.

"People confuse missile capability with nuclear capability — that does not necessarily follow," he said in a phone interview from Washington. "The ability to slim down a nuclear weapon to put it on a warhead is a lot of work." (And U.S. intelligence suggests Iran is still a ways away from developing even a crude nuclear device.)

"I don't like the Iranian government, but they're extremely intelligent," he said. "It would be extremely stupid of the Iranians to attack the U.S or Europe."

"Iran understands that we would turn them into a glass parking lot," he added.

The missile defense system's future in Europe was further clouded by the start of nuclear disarmament talks in Moscow between the United States and Russia. The Kremlin is warning that the talks will flounder if the United States pursues its plans.