- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A top Republican senator involved in foreign affairs and ally of President Obama in the past said Monday that the White House’s decision to scrap the George W. Bush administration’s plan for missile defense in Eastern Europe was “unfortunate.”

Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticized the “abruptness” of Mr. Obama’s decision to scrap plans for defenses against long-range Iranian missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic, in favor of a strategy aimed at short- and mid-range projectiles.

Mr. Lugar, who was a key ally to Mr. Obama during his time as a senator, said he was called the morning of the decision by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and found the hurried announcement “unusual, to say the least.”

“The missile announcement was unfortunate in my judgment in the way it was handled,” said Mr. Lugar during a brief interview after his speech to the Atlantic Council, a bipartisan Washington think tank focused on foreign policy.

In his speech, Mr. Lugar said that even if the administration’s missile defense change of course is a “technical improvement” over the previous plan, “Iranian missiles never constituted the primary rationale for Polish and Czech decisions to buy into the Bush administration’s plan.”

He said Poland and the Czech Republic signed on to the plan for 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic because of a “waning confidence” in the resolve of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to protect its members.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in his first speech to a U.S. audience, told the Atlantic Council later Monday that he thought the missile-defense decision was a good one.

NATO was founded in 1949 to protect Europe, particularly the eastern countries, from Soviet aggression. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many of the former Soviet and communist-bloc countries joined NATO. The alliance now includes 28 countries.

As the Kremlin gained strength over the past decade under former Russian President Vladimir Putin, now the country’s prime minister, countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic sought assurances from the West that Article Five of NATO’s charter would be upheld. Article Five states that in the event of an attack on a NATO member, other NATO members will come to its aid.

The only time Article Five has ever been invoked was after the United States was attacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001.

Though Mr. Lugar said he is encouraged by the Obama administration’s attempt to “reset” relations with Russia, he added that Poland and the Czech Republic were right to feel anxious about the Kremlin’s intentions, citing an “enlivened nostalgia” in Russia for a “sphere of influence.”

The White House rejected the criticism.

“The Poles, Czechs and European allies should and will feel better about their defense under the new program as it addresses an emerging threat - Iran’s medium range missiles - that the previous program of record simply did not cover,” said a senior administration official, who declined to be named in order to talk about European allies.

But Mr. Lugar pointed out that Gazprom, a natural-gas company headquartered in Moscow and owned in large part by the Kremlin, has shut off supplies to six NATO allies in the last few years. He said this kind of aggression should be included under Article Five.

Mr. Lugar, a former U.S. naval officer, also said that NATO should not back away from offering membership to Georgia and Ukraine, two former communist-bloc countries whose attempts to join the pact angered Russia. Russia’s invasion of Georgia in August 2008 was widely considered a response to this.

Rather than back away from Article Five, Mr. Lugar said the U.S. should seek to “strengthen those guarantees” for member states.

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