The office of US president-elect Barack Obama said on Saturday that Obama has no commitment to building a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe.
The statement from Denis McDonough, Obama’s senior foreign policy adviser, came as Russia and Poland jockeyed for attention from the administration-in-waiting over the disputed defense system that Poland and Czech Republic have approved.
McDonough said Obama had “a good conversation” with Polish President Lech Kaczynski about the US-Polish alliance but that Obama had made no commitment on the missile shield plan.
“His position is as it was throughout the campaign, that he supports deploying a missile defense system when the technology is proved to be workable,” McDonough said.
That was in contrast to a statement issued by the Polish president. Kaczynski said Obama “emphasized the importance of the strategic partnership of Poland and the United States and expressed hope in the continuation of political and military cooperation between our countries. He also said that the missile defense project would continue.”
Russia regards the proposed system as a security threat to itself and its former sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.
On the day after Obama’s commanding victory in the US elections, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev announced Moscow would deploy short-range Iskander missiles in the Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad bordering with Poland as a retaliatory step.
In Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, where the so-called Middle East quartet was preparing to meet yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Saturday that Russia wanted to negotiate with Obama about the plans.
“I think that we could hold detailed discussions about this question by the end of the year,” Lavrov said, after meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Egypt, according to an Interfax agency report in Moscow.
Lavrov said Russia was not satisfied with the latest US proposals on nuclear arms reduction and missile defense and that positions expressed earlier by Obama provide hope for a “more constructive” approach, Russian news agencies reported yesterday.
Lavrov said there would likely be further consultations on defense issues with the US this year, but suggested any final agreements would likely come only after the new US administration takes office in January.
“We have paid attention to the positions that Barack Obama has published on his site. They instill hope that we can examine these questions in a more constructive way,” RIA-Novosti quoted Lavrov as saying.
Meanwhile, Obama spoke to Medvedev as he had another round of phone calls with leaders in other countries.
A Kremlin statement said Obama and Medvedev “expressed the determination to create constructive and positive interaction for the good of global stability and development” and agreed that their countries had a common responsibility to address “serious problems of a global nature.”
To that end, according to the Kremlin statement, Medvedev and Obama believe an “early bilateral meeting” should be arranged.
Obama’s office did not issue a statement describing the call on Saturday. A Kremlin spokesman declined to elaborate or say when such a meeting could take place.
A US President George W. Bush administration plan for setting up a missile shield close to Russia’s borders has been a sore point with the Kremlin and has served as another dent in its battered relationship with the US.
During the presidential campaign, Obama expressed skepticism about the system, saying that it would require much more vigorous testing to ensure it would work and justify the billions of dollars it would cost.
On another international matter, Obama’s office had little to say in response to a statement by Khaled Mashaal, leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, that he is ready to talk to Obama “with an open mind.” The exiled militant leader told Sky News from Damascus that the election of a US president with African roots is “a big change.”
“President-elect Obama said throughout the campaign that he will only talk with Hamas if it renounces terrorism, recognizes Israel’s right to exist and agrees to abide by past agreements,” McDonough said.
The Bush administration has boycotted Hamas because it refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel.
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