Washington (AFP) Oct 19, 2009
Vice President Joe Biden heads to eastern Europe Tuesday to meet key US allies, after a decision last month to shelve a Bush-era missile shield initially angered Poland and the Czech Republic.
Officials deny that Biden is being sent on a mission to pacify the two US partners, on a trip also including Romania, or to convince them they will not suffer from Washington's desire to "reset" ties with Russia.
President Barack Obama announced last month that he would replace the anti-ballistic missile shield envisioned by his predecessor George W. Bush, which was to have been partly based in Poland and the Czech Republic.
"The more allies heard and discussed what we are proposing, the stronger their support," said Tony Blinken, Biden's top national security advisor.
Blinken blamed intense early disappointment in Warsaw and Prague following Obama's announcement on misleading media coverage.
"It was unfortunate that some of the initial headlines talked about the US abandoning missile defense in Europe," Blinken told reporters on a conference call.
"It is exactly the opposite; the approach we are taking strengthens missile defense in Europe."
Obama decided to develop a more mobile system, initially based at sea, targeting short- and medium-range Iranian missiles which intelligence analysts now believe pose more of a threat than yet-to-be developed long-range weapons.
Last week, a US defense official said Washington will deploy ground-to-air Patriot missiles in Poland in 2010 and had given Warsaw the chance to host land-based SM-3 missiles for the new European shield system.
Biden is set to leave Washington on Tuesday and arrive in Warsaw late in the same evening, aides said.
On Wednesday, he will meet US embassy staff, hold a working lunch with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and then see President Lech Kaczynski before leaving for Bucharest in the evening.
On Thursday, Biden will hold talks with Romanian President Traian Basescu and also see Prime Minister Emil Boc, deliver a speech focused on US relations with central Europe, and meet leading opposition leaders.
On Friday, Biden will be in Prague and hold talks with Prime Minister Jan Fischer and President Vaclav Klaus, and will meet key opposition leaders before returning home to Washington.
"Our ears are open," Blinken said, adding that US decisions on missile defense and Russian relations were taken with full consultation and discussion with US eastern European allies.
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