PRAGUE (AP) — President Barack Obama phoned the Czech prime minister to discuss a controversial missile defense system, a government spokesman said Thursday, and Czech media reported that Obama told the premier he will shelve the plan.
Government spokesman Roman Prorok declined to report what Obama told Prime Minister Jan Fischer, saying only that Fischer later informed Czech President Vaclav Klaus.
The Czech national news agency CTK, citing a diplomatic source it didn’t identify, reported that Obama indicated the U.S. intends to “withdraw from its missile defense project in the Czech Republic and Poland.”
Polish officials said they had no information on whether Obama also phoned that country’s top leaders.
Prorok said Ellen Tauscher, a U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, would brief Czech officials in Prague and Polish officials in Warsaw later Thursday about Obama’s decision.
There have been signs that Obama’s administration is preparing to shelve many of the components of the missile shield proposed by the Bush administration, which called for 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic.
The Bush administration had said the missile shield was a strategic way to counter a threat from Iran or another rogue state in the Middle East, but Russia was deeply angered by the prospect of having U.S. interceptor rockets based in countries so close to its territory.
Obama took office undecided about whether to continue to press for the European system and said he would study it. His administration never sounded enthusiastic about it, and European allies have been preparing for an announcement that the White House would not complete the shield as designed.
“It is most probable that the U.S. administration will unfortunately scrap the plan altogether,” said Jaroslaw Gowin, a lawmaker with Poland’s ruling Civic Platform party.
“This would confirm that Central Europe is not in the center of Obama administration’s interest,” he said, adding: “But maybe the U.S. will offer us an alternative.”
The Czech government had stood behind the planned radar system despite fierce opposition from the public, which has staged numerous protests over the past few years.
Critics fear the Czech Republic would be targeted by terrorists if it agreed to host the radar system, which was planned for the Brdy military installation 90 kilometers (55 miles) southwest of Prague, the capital.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Robert Gates scheduled a news conference Thursday with a top military leader, Marine Gen. James Cartwright, who has been a point man on the technical challenge of arraying missiles and interceptors to defend against long-range missiles.
Two military officials said the news conference would concern the missile defense plans.
A decision to scrap the plan would have future consequences for U.S. relations with eastern Europe.
Jan Vidim, a lawmaker with Czech Republic’s conservative Civic Democratic Party – which supported the missile defense plan – said it’s “hard to imagine how unfair” it would be for Obama to cancel at this stage.
“If the administration approaches us in the future with any request, I would be strongly against it,” he said.
Kole reported from Vienna. AP Writer Monika Scislowska in Warsaw and Anne Gearan and Desmond Butler in Washington contributed to this story.
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