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Page last updated at 13:06 GMT, Thursday, 17 September 2009 14:06 UK

Mixed US missile shield reaction

US missile defence has divided Russian and central European politicians into opposing camps, and reaction to the news that Washington was shelving its European missile shield plan has been swift and predictable.

BBC correspondents in Russia, the Czech Republic and Poland have been gauging local opinion.

RUSSIAN REACTION - RICHARD GALPIN, MOSCOW

A senior Russian official told the BBC the decision was a breakthrough for relations between Moscow and Washington.

Dmitri Rogozin
It's like having a decomposing corpse in your flat and then the undertaker comes and takes it away
Dmitry Rogozin
Russian ambassador to Nato

"It's like having a decomposing corpse in your flat and then the undertaker comes and takes it away," said Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's ambassador to Nato.

"This means we're getting rid of one of those niggling problems which prevented us from doing the real work."

But Mr Rogozin warned that today's decision does not mean the end of the American missile defence programme.

"They can still put their missiles and radars on warships and they can postpone their decision until there's a realistic threat."

The Kremlin has not yet given any official reaction, as it waits for full details of the decision from Washington. But clearly the government will be pleased that Washington has given up on plans to put parts of the missile defence system so close to its border.

Moscow had always condemned the plans, claiming US interceptor missiles would be aimed as much at Russia as at Iran.

The question now is how far it will lead to any real improvement in relations.

One big test will be whether Moscow and Washington will now succeed in signing a new arms treaty to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear weapons, by the deadline of December.

CZECH REACTION - ROB CAMERON, PRAGUE

Mirek Topolanek, the former prime minister who negotiated the treaty with the Bush administration, said the announcement was proof that the United States under President Obama had lost interest in Central Europe.

Mirek Topolanek
We're not anchored by a strong security partner, a strong ally
Mirek Topolanek
Former Czech prime minister

"It puts us in a position that we in Central Europe have known for the last 100 years: we're not anchored by a strong security partner, a strong ally," said Mr Topolanek, leader of the centre-right Civic Democrats. "I see that as a threat."

On the left, Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek was jubilant, describing it as a "victory for the Czech people".

"I'm glad that we've been proven right by the course of events," added Mr Paroubek. "What we've been saying for three years has been confirmed: there's no need for a US missile defence shield."

Former Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg was more phlegmatic, saying US President Barack Obama's decision to scrap the European elements of the shield was obviously a gesture towards Moscow and Tehran ahead of talks with Iran in Turkey.

"As gestures go, however, it's pretty cheap," added Mr Schwarzenberg.

The news is likely to dominate the headlines for several days, but not much longer. The country is in the midst of a prolonged political crisis; Czech politicians have far more pressing issues to worry about.

POLISH REACTION - ADAM EASTON, WARSAW

The reports did not come as a surprise to anyone in Poland. Indeed the government was concerned the incoming US administration might change its policy when it signed the missile defence agreement with Washington last August.

Lech Walesa (18/03/2009)
We should reconsider our approach to the US
Lech Walesa
Former Polish president

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said his government would not be commenting on the US decision until Washington had made its announcement public. He said he would shortly discuss the issue with the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. He asked journalists to reserve their judgement because the US decision could be different from what they expected.

However, the news came as a disappointment to the president's circle. President Lech Kaczynski is a keen supporter of the system. The head of the country's national security office, Aleksander Szczyglo, told TVN24 news channel that it would be a "failure in the long-term thinking of the US administration about the situation in this part of Europe".

Former President Lech Walesa told the same channel: "We should reconsider our approach to the US."

In July Walesa signed an open letter along with Vaclav Havel and others warning that the US's credibility in the region could be undermined if it abandoned the missile shield without consulting Warsaw and Prague.

Bartosz Weglarczyk, foreign editor at Gazeta Wyborzca, a leading Polish daily, told the BBC the decision represents the most important shift in US-Polish relations since 1989.

"Nothing will be the same," he said. "I think we will have to look at the US from the European perspective and focus on Europe more now."



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