Victory over Bush-era foreign policy in Europe
But Washington’s move to put missile defense plans on the backburner and not deploy just miles from Russia’s border have been welcomed as a clear sign of respect for Russia’s national security.
President Dmitry Medvedev has given a broadly positive reaction to Washington's announcement that it is dramatically altering its missile defense plans in Europe.
“We will work together to develop effective measures regarding the risks of missile proliferation, measures which will take into account the interests and concerns of all parties and provide equal security for all countries in Europe,” Medvedev said.
He added that Russia appreciates President Barack Obama’s “approach to implementing our agreements and readiness to continue the dialogue.”
Obama's call for unity
The US has announced a new plan that will involve a more mobile and global force that can counter any apparent threat from Iran.
“We have also repeatedly made clear to Russia that its concerns about the previous missile defense programs were entirely unfounded,” proclaimed Obama in an announcement Thursday. “Our clear and consistent focus has been the threat posed by Iran’s ballistic missiles program, and it continues to be the focus of the basis of the program that we are announcing today.”
Obama welcomed Russia’s cooperation to bring its missile defense capabilities into a broader defense of common strategic interests. He also expressed hope that the US and Russia will “continue our shared efforts to end Iran’s illicit nuclear program.”
Medvedev:we have conditions to work now
The timing of the announcement is significant, as it comes just weeks before an October 1 meeting between UN Security Council members and Iranian negotiators.
“Russia has noted the announcement President Barack Obama made today about adjustments in the US position on missile defense,” Medvedev said. “I discussed this subject with the US president during our meetings in both London and Moscow. We agreed and wrote in our joint statement that Russia and the US will do their best to asses risks related to missile proliferation in the world.”
Thursday’s announcement by Washington, the Russian leader said, demonstrates “that we now have favorable conditions for this work.”
He added that detailed consultations between experts from both states will be needed.
“And, of course, our country is ready for them,” he assured.
The president added that on September 23, during a meeting with Obama in New York, “we’ll have a good opportunity to exchange our views on all matters of strategic stability, including missile defense.”
He said he hopes that “we'll be able to give instructions to the appropriate departments after [the meeting] on stepping up bilateral interaction that will embrace European and other interested states at later stages."
Both Washington and the Kremlin insist there were no behind-the-scenes deals leading to President Obama's decision.
Andrew Nagorski, who's a former Moscow bureau chief of 'Newsweek' magazine says, in this case, there's nothing to hide. Though many Poles and Russians would say this is a trick – it actually not because a trick is something secretly trying hoping for something, whereas the Obama administration is quite open.
“There is nothing like a trick there but what is going to be important is the follow-up.”
Russia's envoy to NATO speaks out
Meanwhile, Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said he hopes a meeting between Medvedev and Obama next week will shed more light on the new American missile shield plan.
He said that only after carefully investigating new threats against Russia and the US can Moscow “elaborate the military response.”
“We do understand that in this world we have a lot of threats,” Rogozin said. “Maybe some country wants to use missile technologies against its enemies.”
But in any case, he said, a first step should be not a military response, but an analysis and investigation of possible threats.
“We are waiting for Obama’s concrete proposal on how Washington and Moscow can start this mutual understanding,” Rogozin said.
Russia's envoy to NATO says that while the new American proposals about using facilities on land and sea to combat the threat from short and medium-range missiles are far from perfect, they are a major improvement.
“The new mobile components system will have missiles based on military vessels, which is not very good for Russia because military ships can be in one location one day and the next near St. Petersburg, but it is a very big step away from the offensive plans of the Bush administration,” Rogozin said.
Moscow has consistently opposed Washington's old plans about ABM systems in Europe, which gathered pace under George W. Bush who insisted it was to counter the Iranian nuclear threat.
The Kremlin said missile defense against Iran had no place in Eastern Europe, and even proposed alternative sites in southern Russia and Azerbaijan which would be closer to the Islamic republic – without success, though.
Experts: Obama's voice of reason
“Officially it was about countering the Iranian threat, but in reality the threat was non-existent – Iran now has neither nuclear weapons, nor long range missiles” argues Dmitry Suslov from the Moscow-based Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.
During the last year of the Bush administration, the US signed a deal to place missile interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic, which was opposed by many in Eastern Europe.
Jan Tamas, from the Czech “No To Base” movement, had this to say: “Barack Obama realized it’s a step in the wrong direction. It was not improving the security situation, neither in Europe nor in the world. It was actually bringing us closer to a potential conflict, or perhaps even World War III.”
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