The World from Berlin Obama Takes 'Big Political Gamble' on Missile Shield

US President Barack Obama has scrapped his predecessor's plans for a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. German editorialists hope the move will encourage Russia to back tougher sanctions against Iran. But while some praise the decision as hopeful and brave, others dub it naive and dangerous.

Will Obama's cancellation of the planned missile defense shield in Eastern Europe improve cooperation with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev?
REUTERS

Will Obama's cancellation of the planned missile defense shield in Eastern Europe improve cooperation with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev?


President Barack Obama on Thursday said the United States would shelve controversial plans it had inherited from George W Bush's administration to set up a missile defense shield in the Czech Republic and Poland. Instead, he outlined plans to replace it with a system using smaller radars and sensors and missiles deployed on land or at sea.

News of the decision was greeted with qualified support by leading German politicians. While in Brussels for a special EU summit, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she saw the decision as "a hopeful signal that the difficulties with Russia might be overcome," adding that she hoped it would lead to stronger collaboration with Russia when it comes to international issues.

The most pressing international issue she was referring to was, of course, Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. The US is hoping to convince Russia to support possibly stiffer sanctions against Iran.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev hailed the decision as a "responsible move." Russia's top diplomat, Konstantin Kosachev, said: "It is a sign that Obama takes our fears more seriously than his predecessor. … Now we can talk about restoration of the strategic partnership between Russia and the United States." But Kosachev added that Moscow was still opposed to new punitive sanctions against Iran.

'A Slap in the Face for Merkel'

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany's foreign minister and the candidate for the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the upcoming election, interpreted the move as a "signal" that the Obama administration was looking to find "common solutions" to shared threats.

Norman Paech, the foreign-policy spokesman for the Left Party, called it "a wise decision" and said that perhaps this meant that the United States "was finally correctly estimating the danger presented by Iranian long-rang missiles."

Germany's Green Party interpreted the decision as an embarrassment for Merkel and her center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party. "Both Merkel and the CDU are disgraced because they always welcomed and supported Bush's missile defense plans," said Jürgen Trittin, the party's leading candidate in the election. Tritten said that the plan had massively threatened security in Europe and called its cancellation "a slap in the face to the chancellor."

Guido Westerwelle, the candidate for the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), welcomed the decision as one that fosters "more international trust," and he called on Germany's government to capitalize on the moment to push for the removal of US nuclear weapons based in Germany by 2013.

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