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East Europe Officials Say US Backing Away from Missile Defense System


Poland and the Czech Republic are reacting to U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to scrap plans for a Europe-based missile defense system. Several officials in the region warn that the move will improve Washington's relations with Moscow at the expense of other Eastern European allies.

Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer said President Obama told him early Thursday that the United States is abandoning plans to build a defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic aimed at intercepting missiles from other countries.

Mr. Fischer said President Obama told him that the United States would not be building a missile-defense radar system on Czech territory. The prime minister added that the Czech Republic "acknowledges this decision".

The system was promoted by Mr. Obama's predecessor George W. Bush to defend against missiles launched from what he called "rogue" states such as Iran and North Korea.

But Russia was strongly opposed to the system, saying it undermined its national security interests and could lead to more instability in Europe.

The Obama administration has made clear that it wants to "reset" relations with Russia, so the two former Cold War foes can cooperate on Iran, fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, and reducing their vast nuclear arsenals.

Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk says his country still remains loyal to the United States, despite the decision to scrap plans to build the anti-missile system.

Several officials at Poland's National Security Bureau are expressing concerns about the move, saying the presence of American troops on Polish soil would have increased the country's security.

Zbigniew Lewicki, a specialist in American studies at the University of Warsaw, told the Polish Radio External Service that there is also concern about Russia's perceived attempts to increase its influence in former Soviet satellite states, including Poland.

"What is worrying is the fact that the decision was obviously taken as a result of Russia's insistence of scrapping the plan," said Lewicki. "And it also presents confirmation from the United States that Russia's wishes are very important in this part of the world. I think we should be very worried about that kind of approach. Nobody opposes better relations between the United States and Russia. But it should never be done in a manner which confirms Russia's unfounded claims to be the decisive force in this part of Europe."

The Head of the Russian Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachev, has welcomed Washington's decision to drop plans for the missile defense system.

In comments translated by Russia Today television, he said this will strengthen ties between the United States and Russia.

"It is a clear sign that the United States is taking Russia and its arguments as seriously as their national security considerations," said Kosachev. "I am sure that the cooperation between the countries in the field of strategic security is more effective for both Russia and the United States than any AMD [anti-missile defense system], any armed forces or any military operation."

While Moscow insists that this will lead to more stability in Europe, some analysts and officials in Eastern Europe are unconvinced. They cite Russia's brief war with Georgia and Russia's confrontations with Ukraine over natural gas supplies last year as reasons to remain skeptical about the Kremlin's intentions.

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