- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 19, 2009

WARSAW | Poles and Czechs voiced deep concern Friday at President Obama’s decision to scrap a Bush-era missile defense shield planned for their countries. But in Russia, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin praised the move as “correct and brave.”

“Betrayal! The U.S. sold us to Russia and stabbed us in the back,” the Polish tabloid Fakt declared on its front page.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski said he was concerned that Mr. Obama’s new strategy leaves Poland in a dangerous “gray zone” between Western Europe and the old Soviet sphere.

The Bush administration’s missile defense plan would have been “a major step in preventing various disturbing trends in our region of the world,” Mr. Kaczynski said in a guest editorial in Fakt that also was carried on his presidential Web site.

Neighboring Lithuania, a small Baltic nation that broke away from the Soviet Union in 1990 and is now a NATO member, also expressed regret over Mr. Obama’s decision.

National Defense Minister Rasa Jukneviciene said that the shield would have increased security for Lithuania and she hoped missile defense would not be excluded from future talks on NATO security.

“This NATO region cannot be an exception and its defense is not less important compared with others,” she said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he still sees a chance for Poles and Czechs to participate in the redesigned missile defense system. But that did not appear to calm nerves in Warsaw or Prague.

Mr. Kaczynski expressed hopes that the U.S. will now offer Poland other forms of “strategic partnership.”

Later Friday, U.S. Ambassador Victor Ashe stressed that “the United States counts Poland among its closest allies and friends.”

“Consultations on the way forward for missile defense will continue between our two governments,” Mr. Ashe said in a statement.

In Prague, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said he made two concrete proposals to U.S. officials Thursday in hopes of keeping the U.S.-Czech alliance strong: for the U.S. to establish a branch of West Point for NATO members in Central Europe and to “send a Czech scientist on the U.S. space shuttle to the International Space Station.”

The move has raised fears in the two nations they are being marginalized by Washington even as a resurgent Russia leaves them longing for added American protection.

The Bush administration always said that the planned system - with a radar near Prague and interceptors in northern Poland - was meant as defense against Iran. But Poles and Czechs saw it as protection against Russia, and Moscow too considered a military installation in its backyard to be a threat.

“No Radar. Russia won,” the largest Czech daily, Mlada Fronta Dnes, declared in a front-page headline.

The U.S. decision received praise from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who called it a “responsible move” on Thursday.

Calling it “brave” on Friday, Mr. Putin also urged Mr. Obama to make further gestures to Moscow, such as the removal of all remaining trade restrictions and full U.S. backing for a joint bid by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan to join the World Trade Organization.

“The latest decisions by President Obama to cancel plans to build the third positioning region of the missile defense system in Europe inspires hope and I do anticipate that this correct and brave decision will be followed by others,” Mr. Putin said, speaking to an investor conference in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, according to Reuters news agency.

In Brussels, the head of NATO called for the U.S., Russia and NATO to link their missile defense systems against potential new nuclear threats from Asia and the Middle East, saying that the old foes must forget their lingering Cold War animosity.

“We should explore the potential for linking the U.S., NATO and Russia missile defense systems at an appropriate time,” Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in an address to the Carnegie Europe think tank in Brussels.

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