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RIA Novosti
March 24, 2009
Washington postpones European ABM plans

MOSCOW. (Nikita Petrov, special to RIA Novosti) - The Czech government has suspended the ratification of its agreement with the United States on the deployment of a missile tracking radar.

Some military analysts link this decision with the changes in the new U.S. administration's attitude to the plans to deploy anti-ballistic missile systems in Eastern Europe. Barack Obama said during his election campaign that the efficiency of the system should be scrutinized. When he was elected president, he said he might put off the ABM plans for Europe or bury the idea, especially if Russia would help convince Iran to suspend its nuclear weapons program.

However, all is not as simple as it seems. Nearly half of Czechs protested against the ratification of the ABM agreement with the U.S. Now that a coalition of opposition parties has been formed in the Czech parliament, the Topolanek government is not prepared to risk the agreements with Washington.

However, postponing ratification does not mean cancelling it.

The situation can be seriously influenced by the upcoming talks between the U.S. and Russian presidents during the G20 summit in London in early April. After that, President Obama is expected to visit Russia. These talks may put the European ABM on hold for a very long time, if not bury the idea altogether.

There have been some promising statements.

In particular, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said at a recent Munich security conference that it is time to "press the reset button" on U.S.-Russia relations. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov supported the idea during their recent meeting in Geneva.

Another indicator is the working group on U.S.-Russian relations, made up of former officials in both governments and co-chaired by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov. The group has recently finished talks ahead of the presidential meeting in London and has met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

However, Eastern Europe is not sure whether Washington will indeed freeze its plans for the missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. In fact, the U.S. has recently held a successful trial of its new anti-ballistic missile. It has spent $50 billion and plans to allocate another $60 billion on the global ABM system, which, frankly speaking, does not sound like a freeze at all.

Moreover, talks on a new Russian-U.S. strategic arms reduction treaty or on the prolongation of the START-I treaty can succeed only if Washington abandons plans for an ABM system in Europe.

There is a direct connection between the two issues. However, Russia is unlikely to accept the U.S. proposal for a dramatic reduction of strategic nuclear weapons if Washington uses its ABM system as an additional shield.

Washington is aware of Moscow's stance, but is it prepared to respect it and to accept its proposals on a new strategic arms reduction treaty? We will know the answer only after Obama and Medvedev meet.