The First Draft: Missile defense, Iran and value voters
President Barack Obama’s decision to abandon a big, fixed-installation missile defense shield in Eastern Europe is drawing some angry reaction abroad.
Conservatives in Poland, where the Bush administration planned to base interceptor rockets, and the Czech Republic, where a radar installation was planned, accused Washington of buckling to Russian pressure.
“Betrayal! The USA has sold us to the Russians and stabbed us in the back,” said the Polish tabloid Fakt.
The Czech daily Lidowe Noviny took a similar line. “Obama gave in to the Kremlin,” it said.
Some military experts viewed the decision as a sign of weakness by Obama that Moscow hardliners would try to exploit further.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin described it as “correct and brave,” and followed up Friday with a speech calling for Obama to agree to concessions on trade and technology transfer.
The Bush administration had proposed the shield to counter concerns Iran was developing a long-range missile capability that could strike at the United States.
The Obama administration said Iranian short- and medium-range missiles were a more immediate concern. It said it would scrap the antiballistic missile shield in favor of a more mobile, versatile system targeting shorter-range missiles.
U.S. newspapers were more receptive to that rationale. The New York Times called it “a sound strategic decision” and USA today said it marked the first big break in foreign policy with the former administration.
The announcement came ahead of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York next week and the start of direct talks in October between Iran and major powers concerned about its nuclear enrichment program.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did little Friday to allay those worries.
Speaking to worshipers at Tehran University, Ahmadinejad said the Holocaust was a “lie based on an unprovable and mythical claim.”
He said it was a pretext to create a Jewish state and that Iranians had a “national and religious duty” to confront it.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a speech looking at her aims for the U.N. General Assembly, said the missile decision was a reaction to Iran, not Russia.
“We would never, never walk away from our allies,” she said.
Obama meets today with Susan Rice, his ambassador to the United Nations, ahead of the General Assembly session.
And the religious right begins its annual Washington gathering — the Value Voters Summit — looking for ways to rally conservative Christians against Obama’s agenda, including healthcare reform.
Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Obama discusses missile defense Thursday); Reuters/Yuri Gripas (Gates discussing missile defense Thursday)