Vice President Joe Biden is traveling to Central Europe to reassure leaders who are nervous that the Obama administration's courting of Russia means a reduced commitment to their security.
Biden's trip Tuesday comes in the aftermath of the administration's decision to rework a missile defense plan devised by the Bush administration and opposed by Russia. Leaders in Poland and the Czech Republic, where the system was to have been based, had hoped it would offer a permanent U.S. presence and deterrence against potential Russian bullying.
Biden's national security adviser, Tony Blinken, said Monday that the shift was not aimed at appeasing Russia.
The administration's new plan still will involve deploying missile defense elements to the region, and President Barack Obama has promised to give Poland and the Czech Republic priority in its basing decisions. The Bush administration's plans involved installing long-range interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic to counter Iran's missile program.
The Obama administration says it is already consulting allies on the new plans to deploy interceptors for short- and medium-range missiles.
Janusz Bugajski, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Europe program, says Central Europe was already nervous about the administration's promise to reset relations with Russia before the missile defense announcement, because the administration was slow to reassure the region. Central European countries enjoyed close attention from the Bush administration.
"All of them fear that they have been put on the back burner while the U.S. engages Russia," Bugajski said, adding that the countries are now eager for specific details on the new plans.
The visit by Biden, considered a close foreign policy adviser to Obama, is intended to counter that impression.
Biden first meeting Wednesday is with Poland's prime minister and president. Some Polish officials expressed dismay when Obama announced plans for the reconfigured system because it appeared to deny Poland the crucial role it was originally to have had.
Bartosz Wisniewski, a foreign policy analyst with the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said Polish leaders will be eager to hear Biden but may listen with greater skepticism than before.
"The degree of good will is significantly lower," he said. "The interest is there but I think the credibility of the U.S. has been really diminished."
After Warsaw, Biden plans to meet leaders in Bucharest on Thursday and Prague on Friday.