The president of the Czech Republic said Monday that the Obama administration's decision not to deploy missile defenses in his country did not surprise him and will have "no practical consequences" for Europe's strategic defense.
"I fully accept this decision," Vaclav Klaus told editors and reporters of The Washington Times. He was referring to last week's announcement that the U.S. initially will deploy sea-based defenses against short- and medium-range Iranian missiles, not a Czech- and Polish-based system designed to counteract long-range missiles that Iran apparently is developing more slowly than the U.S. had anticipated.
"I do not think it is necessary to demonize it," Mr. Klaus said of the U.S. decision. "It was expected as something that could happen, and we need to put it in perspective."
He added that he had never been convinced of the strategic value of the proposed system.
Mr. Klaus also said that, 20 years after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, his country has less to fear from Russia than from an overregulated European Union.
(Corrected paragraph:) A fierce opponent of communism during the Cold War era and a free-market enthusiast, Mr. Klaus voiced concern about the impact of growing government intervention in EU economies since the global recession struck last year.
(Corrected paragraph:) "I live now in a much more regulated, controlled society than I expected 20 years ago, in the moment of the fall of communism," he said. The president, widely known as a Euro-skeptic, called that "frustrating."
"Whether we will be able to keep our identity as a state is for me an issue," he said.
Mr. Klaus strongly opposes the Lisbon Treaty, an agreement reached among European Union members in 2007 that has not been ratified by all members as required. The treaty would bring about greater integration within the union and give new powers to Europe-wide officials and bodies at the expense of national governments.
Mr. Klaus, who arrived in Washington Sunday and flew to New York later Monday to attend the U.N. General Assembly, expressed satisfaction with U.S.-Czech ties.
"They remain solid and extensive," he said.
He attributed headlines in some Czech newspapers criticizing the U.S. decision to scrap the missile defense plan that was put forward by the George W. Bush administration as a function of internal politics before national elections.
In fact, he said, public opinion polls in the Czech Republic consistently have shown that about 70 percent of the population opposed the deployment of the radar system in the country.
The missile defense plan infuriated Russia, which insisted that it was directed against it, not Iran.
Mr. Klaus said he did not worry that not deploying the radar would put his country in danger from Russia.
"For me, the threat of the Soviet Union in the past was enormous because it influenced my life every day." Now, he said, "the threat coming from that part of the world is much, much smaller."
While Russia has not evolved as quickly toward democracy as East European governments with a pre-communist history of democracy, Mr. Klaus said, "the political system and freedom in Russia is now the highest and the best in the history of Russia in the last two millennia."
Mr. Klaus, a contrarian in Europe when it comes to climate change, repeated his view that global warming was "humbug" and "nonsense."
He spoke a day before attending a summit in New York about climate change, which most other nations and politicians view as a significant threat to the environment and human and animal life.
"This is a undefendable position," Mr. Klaus said. "I am convinced of the nonsense of global warming."