From the Economist: The president was in Prague to sign a new nuclear disarmament agreement with Russia. Even the twitchiest ex-communist countries don’t mind that. The choice of a key American ally as the signing location was meant to signal America’s continued commitment to the region’s security. Mr Obama could have simply headed home after the ceremony, or travelled on to a meeting with one big ally. Instead, he chose to invite, admittedly at short notice, all of his ex-communist allies to talk.
Yet indigestion preceded the meal. Some queried the mixture of presidents and prime ministers. Others said the invitation to the ex-communist leaders as a group reinforced Donald Rumsfeld’s pre-Iraq war division of “new Europe” (Atlanticist, hawkish) and the peaceniks of “old Europe”. Some western European politicians lamented the fact that no EU representative was asked to attend. The Lithuanian president, Dalia Grybauskaite, reinforced her reputation for unpredictable behaviour by turning down the invitation. One of her advisers explained that the dinner would involve “no decision-making”, that it was organised by junior officials, that its outcome was unclear and that she would have only two minutes to talk one-on-one with Mr Obama. She would prefer to meet him properly in Washington, DC. Coming from a country roughly one-hundredth America’s size, that showed a startling self-confidence, even by Lithuanian standards.
The people running the event also struggled to contain the damage caused by a remark by a “senior US official” quoted in the New York Times, who claimed that the president would “seek to impress upon regional leaders a new attitude toward Russia in which the outmoded fears of Russians hiding under the bed are a thing of the past”. If true, that would have set nerves jangling from the Baltic to the Black sea: the ex-communist countries do not think that their worries about Russian mischief-making are outdated. A phalanx of other senior US officials categorically denied that any such thinking lay behind the dinner. (photo: Reuters)