Allies' Reaction Mixed As U.S. Alters Missile Defense Plan

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The decision by the Obama administration to drastically change U.S. plans for a missile defense shield in Europe has been met with mixed reaction from NATO allies in the region.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In Eastern Europe, the missile shield plan was always controversial. Some leaders there have welcomed President Obamas new plan, calling it pragmatic. Others see it as pushing Eastern Europe to the sidelines. And thats particularly true in Poland and the Czech Republic, where officials voiced deep disappointment. NPRs Eric Westervelt has more on the reaction.

ERIC WESTERVELT: The change in policy was long expected and hardly a shock to Eastern Europe. But nonetheless, for some there was a sense of betrayal. The Poles had steadfastly supported George W. Bushs policies. Warsaw sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. The government backed the Bush administrations hugely controversial detention and rendition policies.

In 2003, Poland even opted to buy American fighter jets, not European ones. Now many Poles fear the Obama administration has lost interest in cultivating any special relationship. Jan Techau directs the Europe Program at the German Council on Foreign Relations.

Mr. JAN TECHAU (Director of Europe Program, German Council on Foreign Relations): The Poles really feel like theyve lost a piece of their security guarantee. For them, the missile defense thing was mostly about having Americans present on their soil, which for them was the equivalent of a security guarantee vis-a-vis Russia. That was the quintessential rationale and that is gone now and that makes them feel more vulnerable and this is why theyre disappointed and this is why theyre openly disappointed.

WESTERVELT: Former Polish President Lech Walesa, a leader of the Solidarity movement that brought an end to communism 20 years ago, said his country should now reconsider our approach to the United States. Another Polish politician called the decision deeply dispiriting. Kim Holmes at the conservative Heritage Foundation says Eastern European countries will now worry theyre becoming second-class citizens in NATO.

Mr. KIM HOLMES (Heritage Foundation): They sent a signal to our allies that well throw them under the bus when the Russians complain.

WESTERVELT: The symbolic timing of the announcement could not have been worse for Poland. Word of the policy shift came on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Red Armys invasion of Poland from the east after the Nazis invaded from the west to start World War II.

Some Polish lawmakers are already blaming the government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk for not doing enough to cultivate better ties to the Obama administration. Analyst Jan Techau says Poles now feel less secure even though, he says, the decision was really about Washingtons relations with Russia on the larger strategic issues of Iran and Afghanistan.

Mr. TECHAU: This is the question that the Poles ask. Has this government lost America really? And in my opinion it was pretty clear from the outset that Obama was rethinking his strategy on the missile defense and that no Polish government whatsoever could have prevented this decision from happening. The Poles at some point will have to realize that this was really not about them, not from the beginning and not now.

WESTERVELT: It wasnt all a loss for Poland. Foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski said the U.S. has pledged to still deploy Patriot missile batteries on Polish soil next year and might base smaller short-range SM3 missiles in Poland in the future. Key political elites in Poland and the Czech Republic supported the original missile plan, but public opinion in both countries was always much more divided.

Reaction to the revised plan in the Czech Republic was more mixed than in Poland. The leader of the leftist Social Democrats, Jiri Paroubek, called it excellent news and a big victory for the Czech people. What weve been saying for three years has been confirmed, he said. Theres no need for a U.S. missile defense shield. But Tomas Pojar, the Deputy Foreign Minister tried to stay positive calling it a reconfiguration. He said the Czech Republic still hopes to play a role in future defense projects.

Mr. TOMAS POJAR (Deputy Foreign Minister, Poland): We really seriously think that there should be a missile defense in Europe and we agree that reconfiguration is possible and its logical and that we should continue building missile defense.

WESTERVELT: But Mirek Topolanek of the center-right Civic Democrats, who as prime minister, negotiated the missile deal with the Bush administration, was angry. He said the move affirmed what we in Central Europe have known for the last 100 years. Were not anchored by a strong security partner, a strong ally, he said, adding, I see that as a threat.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Berlin.

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