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In Prague, Biden shops toned-down missile shield to Czechs, Poles

US Vice President Joe Biden toured Eastern Europe this week with a new missile-defense plan designed to reassure the Czech Republic and Poland that they aren't being forgotten as relations warm with Moscow.

By Tony WesolowskyCorrespondent / October 23, 2009

US Vice President Joe Biden is welcomed by the Czech Republic's Prime Minister, Jan Fischer, at the government's headquarters in Prague Friday.

Petr David Josek/AP

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PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC – US Vice President Joe Biden wrapped up a three-day tour of Eastern Europe in the Czech Republic Friday with a pledge of a more-modest missile plan for the region to convince two of America’s most loyal allies that Washington is not abandoning them in exchange for better relations with Moscow.

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Warsaw and Prague felt jilted after US President Barack Obama announced in September that Washington was scrapping Bush-era plans to build a radar base in the Czech Republic and to deploy 10 missiles in Poland. The US says the base was designed to intercept missiles fired from states like Iran or North Korea but the Russians felt the plan was an implicit threat directed at them.

On Friday, the Czech Republic said it approved of the missile plan proposed by the US, and Poland gave its assent earlier in the week. The plan would see shorter-range US missiles eventually based in the region that would also be fully integrated into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) framework, unlike the Bush administration's plan. NATO Secretary-General Fogh Rasmussen said the new US plan would address a "real threat" to the region.

But President Obama's change of course was seen by Czech and Polish officials as caving to pressure from Moscow, which has vehemently opposed moving any US military hardware onto the soil of former Warsaw Pact allies.

Former Czech foreign minister Jiri Dienstbier told the Monitor that public backing for the Bush plan in the Czech Republic and Poland was never high, and applauded Obama’s decision.

“It was never a good idea, and Obama made the right decision,” Mr. Dienstbief said. Asked whether Central European leaders deserved an apology for investing so much effort into the plan only to see it all come to naught, Dienstbier said no. “For what? Certain political forces were for this plan, but the public didn’t back it, nor did NATO.”

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