Obama’s Return to Prague

obama040510.jpgMy latest dispatch on the Huffington Post discusses the trip of U.S. President Barack Obama to Prague, Czech Republic this week to sign a treaty with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev to replace the expired START-1 pact.  The treaty is positive, but Washington shouldn’t have had to work so hard to convince Moscow of its own natural interests.  The focus on the Europe-Central Europe division over NATO and security will be the bigger story of the week.

The fact that the Czech Republic has also been chosen as the location for the signing of the treaty carries great significance, as well as the dinner Obama has scheduled with key Central European leaders. The U.S. president will use the opportunity to attempt to bolster ties and seek to defuse worries that the Czechs and other new NATO members have been surrendered to Russian interests. Does this new treaty, which has involved a softening on the missile shield issue, imply that the United States can be pressured into a military withdrawal from Europe? By signing the pact, is Washington recognizing a new Russian sphere of influence?

The answers to these questions is “no,” but in reassuring CentralEurope, Obama will have to provide a lot more details. For those withlonger memories of the Prague Spring and the fearsome sounds of Soviettanks crushing down the city’s cobblestone streets, Obama’s willingnessto embrace the Kremlin leadership and reset the relationship signals anexistential threat to Central and Eastern European sovereignty. Lastsummer former Czech President Vaclav Havel and others signed a letter to the American president urgentlyrequesting an affirmation of American support for the region, andwarning of Russian intentions. One Czech Ambassador, who expects Obamato face a number of these questions during the dinner, has commented that “Just because you push thereset button doesn’t mean you lose your memory. And who better toaddress such concerns than Obama himself?”

Read the full version of this article at The Huffington Post.