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 , Correspondent

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

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.

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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.”

Russia’s 2008 war with Georgia and a spat with Ukraine last winter over natural-gas shipments all deepened Central and Eastern European leaders' concerns about the Kremlin.

In Warsaw Wednesday, amid much backslapping and smiles, Biden assured Polish officials that they will figure in any future missile-defense plans. The plan currently taking shape calls for SM-3 missiles to be based in Eastern Europe.

In an interview with the Polish daily “Rzeczpospolita,” Biden assured the Poles that warming relations with Moscow do not mean Washington is throwing Central Europe “overboard.”

After talks with Biden, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk – whom Biden mistakenly referred to twice as “Mr. President,” according to the Polish media – said the updated US missile-defense plan sounded “interesting” and that “Poland was eager to take part.”

Eugeniusz Smolar, the director of the Center for International Relations in Warsaw, told the Associated Press that Poland had no problem accepting the new plan.

"This proposal is much more Europe oriented because the new system is to deal more with the medium- and short-range threats, and this is exactly what Poland has been seeking," Smolar said.

Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Tomas Pojar also said his country is ready to move forward on the new plan. “We said we were ready to further negotiate on the issue and are ready to take part in establishing a new modified missile defense system," Mr. Pojar told Russia’s RIA Novosti on Wednesday.

Biden’s Czech visit came amid fresh Czech intelligence reports that Russian spies are more active than ever in the Czech Republic

The country’s intelligence service, BIS, reports that Russian espionage has not been focused on the planned US missile-defense shield but on the country’s nuclear industry. According to the BIS, Moscow is looking to extend its commercial influence within the Czech industry.

According to Czech media, Biden plans to discuss with Czech officials a potential bid by US power-giant Westinghouse to build a new nuclear reactor at the country's Temelin nuclear site. So far, Russia has submitted the only bid.

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