President Barack Obama has decided to scrap plans for a U.S. missile defense shield in the Czech Republic and Poland that had deeply angered Russia, the Czech prime minister confirmed Thursday.
NATO's new chief hailed the move as "a positive step" and a Russian analyst said Obama's decision will increase the chances that Russia will cooperate more closely with the United States in the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.
Premier Jan Fischer told reporters that Obama phoned him overnight to say that "his government is pulling out of plans to build a missile defense radar on Czech territory."
"The same happened with Poland. Poland was informed in the same way about this intention," Fischer said.
He said Obama assured him that the "strategic cooperation" between the Czech Republic and the U.S. would continue, and that Washington considers the Czechs among its closest allies.
In Poland, officials declined to confirm Fischer's remarks, saying they were waiting for a formal announcement from Washington.
The plan, proposed by the Bush administration, aimed to defend the United States and its European allies against a possible missile attack from Iran or elsewhere in the Middle East. In all, 10 interceptor rockets were to have been stationed in Poland and a radar system based in the Czech Republic.
But Russia was livid over the prospect of having U.S. interceptor rockets in countries so close to its territory, and the Obama administration has sought to improve strained ties with the Kremlin.
"The U.S. president's decision is a well-thought (out) and systematic one," said Konstantin Kosachev, head of the foreign affairs committee in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament. "It reflects understanding that any security measure can't be built entirely on the basis of one nation."