BUCHAREST (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called on central and east European states on Thursday to become more involved in fighting security threats and work closer with their former Soviet bloc peers outside western alliances.
The United States is keen to secure the region’s backing for revamped plans for a missile defense system, after September’s decision to scrap Bush-era solutions irked Poland and the Czech Republic, where elements of it would have been located.
Washington also wants to ensure its efforts to “reset” relations with Russia that include the change in missile defense plans will not alienate the region.
In Bucharest, during a trip to central and eastern Europe, Biden repeated efforts to reassure central Europeans that the Obama administration would not strike any deals with Moscow regarding their security without them.
“The time for central Europe has come,” Biden said during a speech at the Central University Library.
“That’s why in America we no longer think in terms of what we can do for central Europe, but rather in terms of what we can do with central Europe.”
Romania, as well as Poland and the Czech Republic, are close U.S. allies. Romania hosts a small U.S. base and training facilities, part of a Pentagon shift from large Cold War-era centres in western Europe toward smaller installations nearer hot spots such as the Middle East.
All three have troops in Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, during Biden’s visit to Poland, Warsaw said it was ready to take part in the revamped defense system unveiled in Washington last month. The scheme envisages deploying sea- and land-based interceptors and aims to address any immediate threats from Iran more effectively than the Bush plan.
It was unclear what role, if any, would Romania play. Asked about any plans for the Black Sea state, a senior U.S. administration official traveling with Biden told reporters:
“That’s an issue that will be dealt through NATO ... but my understanding is that the process is under way. Options are on the table.”
Biden travels to Prague later on Thursday. Other than the missile defense systems based in Poland and the Czech Republic which Moscow saw as a way to neutralize its own nuclear arsenal, eastwards enlargement of NATO and the European Union had also fueled frosty ties with Russia that Washington is now trying to improve.
The EU wants to forge closer ties with former Soviet states on its eastern border to prevent instability in a region that is the route for the bloc’s gas imports from Russia.
“In eastern Europe countries still struggle to fulfil the promise of a strong democracy or a vibrant market economy,” Biden said.
“You can help guide Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine along the path of lasting stability. It is your time to lead,” he said addressing eastern European states now part of the EU, such as Romania.
Reporting by Radu Marinas; writing by Justyna Pawlak; editing by Richard Williams
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