- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Obama administration reached an agreement Wednesday for Poland to take part in its revised missile defense shield program, a surprising turnabout after the U.S. government junked an ambitious defense program based in the region that was favored by President George W. Bush.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk emerged from a lengthy private discussion to announce that Poland’s participation in the missile program was, essentially, back on though in a new format that involves delivering a smaller number of defensive weapons in 2018.

Mr. Tusk said through a translator that he considered the revised proposal “a very interesting idea,” adding, “We are ready to participate in this project.”

Warsaw’s acceptance was considered critical to President Obama’s revised defense plan, which calls for an existing system of interceptors to be placed on U.S. ships in the Mediterranean by 2011 and in sites in Eastern Europe starting in 2015.

The hastily arranged vice-presidential trip, which also will include stops in Romania and the Czech Republic this week, was also intended to soothe relations and reassure the fledgling NATO members that the missile program would not be scrapped and that the U.S. policy shift should not be viewed as a snub or a weakening of American security commitments in the region.

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Mr. Biden had his work cut out for him. Poland and other nations in the region already were feeling uneasy about recent bilateral discussions between the United States and Russia. Then Mr. Obama, with no warning, announced the shift in missile policy on the anniversary of the Russian invasion of Poland, which remains deeply sensitive about its history with the major powers on its borders.

Placing defensive weapons in Poland and radar systems in the Czech Republic had been pushed aggressively by Bush administration, despite strong objections from Russia, which argued that the system could in time undermine Moscow’s own nuclear arsenal deterrent. Polish officials came to welcome the idea, less for the military value of the weapons than for the added security of having an American military presence within their borders.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney criticized Mr. Obama’s change of direction from the Bush administration in prepared remarks for an address Wednesday evening at the Center for Security Policy.

“Most anyone who is given responsibility in matters of national security quickly comes to appreciate the commitments and structures put in place by others who came before,” said Mr. Cheney, adding that whatever course a new administration follows “the essential thing is always to keep commitments and to leave no doubts about the credibility of your countrys word.”

He said Mr. Obamas cancellation of the agreements with the Polish and Czech governments was a serious blow to millions of Europeans, who have gained opportunities and security that the United States offered.

“These are faithful friends and NATO allies, and they deserve better. “Our friends throughout the world are watching and wondering whether America will abandon them as well,” he said.

Gamely wading into the sticky diplomatic situation, Mr. Biden poured on the charm at his meeting with Polish President Lech Kaczynski that ran more than 30 minutes over its scheduled length.

“When two old friends get together, they tend to talk,” a smiling Mr. Biden said afterward.

Mr. Kaczynski described the conversation as “a source of optimism to me.”

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