Biden to Reassure Allies on Trip to Eastern Europe
By Scott Wilson and Michael A. Fletcher
Vice President Biden will travel to Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic this month on a mission that appears in part designed to reassure worried allies of U.S. resolve.
Biden's four-day trip, scheduled to begin Oct. 20, will take the first high-level U.S. delegation to those countries since President Obama announced last month that he would not proceed with an anti-ballistic missile shield in Eastern Europe.
Poland and the Czech Republic had agreed to host elements of the planned system -- a legacy of the Bush administration -- that Russia considered a severe NATO encroachment on its traditional sphere of influence.
Instead of deploying a shield to protect against long-range missiles, particularly those from Iran, Obama said he would move forward with a sea-based system that would target short and medium-range missiles that more directly threaten Eastern Europe.
But the policy reversal alarmed some in Eastern Europe -- and in the capitals of other U.S. allies, as well -- who took it as a sign that Obama would give in too easily too Russian demands.
Less than a week later, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev offered tentative support for stricter sanctions against Iran if the Islamic Republic continued to defy international demands to stop enriching uranium, something the U.S. government has long sought.
White House Secretary Robert Gibbs said in his Tuesday briefing that Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "is somebody who has long relationships throughout Europe."
Gibbs said the Polish, Czech and Romanian governments support Obama's decision, which he said would deploy "a missile defense system that protects a greater geographic area and addresses much more directly the threat that exists in the here and now rather than something that was technologically a ways off."
"I have no doubt that the issue will come up, and I think the vice president will be very comfortable, as will our allies, in the decision that we've made," Gibbs said.
Posted at 3:06 PM ET on Oct 6, 2009
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