- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 3, 2009

President Obama on Tuesday sought to reassure Eastern European allies who have grown uneasy with signals that the new U.S. president may back off of a planned missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, leaving them exposed both to domestic political criticism and to external threats from an emboldened Russia.

The president said that news reports Tuesday detailing a letter he sent to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev mischaracterized his message as asking for a quid pro quo, in which the U.S. would abandon its missile defense plans in exchange for a pledge from Russia that they could guarantee that Iran does not produce a nuclear weapon.

“What I said in the letter is the same thing I’ve said publicly, which is the missile defense that we’ve talked about deploying is directed not towards Russia but Iran,” Mr. Obama said, after a meeting in the Oval Office with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

“Obviously to the extent that we are lessening Iran’s commitment to nuclear weapons, that reduces the pressure or the need for a missile defense system. In no way does that diminish my commitment to making sure that Poland, the Czech Republic and other NATO members are fully enjoying the partnership of the alliance and U.S. support with respect to their security,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama continued.

“Russia needs to understand our unflagging commitment to the independence and security of countries like Poland and the Czech Republic,” he said.

The president added that the U.S. can cooperate with the Kremlin on common concerns over nuclear proliferation and terrorism.

“My hope is that we can have a constructive relationship where, based on mutual respect and common interests, we can move forward,” Mr. Obama said.

The missile defense system was first proposed by President Bush in 2001, and he spent his entire presidency working to get approval from Poland and the Czech Republic, whose leaders overcame sometimes stiff domestic opposition to the plan.

The Russians, meanwhile, have taken the system as a threat to their security and said they do not believe it is meant to protect Europe from Iran.

The Obama administration has said they want to “reset” U.S.-Russia relations and have said they will deploy the 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic only if the technology works and is “cost-effective.”

Polish and Czech politicians have expressed concern about these statements.

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