Obama staff says no position taken on missile shield

 

PRESIDENT-ELECT Barack Obama made no commitment on a planned US missile defence system in Europe during a conversation with Polish president Lech Kaczynski this weekend, despite reports in Warsaw that he intended to press ahead with the shield, his office has said.

During another round of phone calls with world leaders, Mr Obama also spoke with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia and President Hu Jintao of China, as well as Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

In his conversation with President Kaczynski on Saturday, Mr Obama said "that the anti-missile shield will be continued", according to a statement from Mr Kaczynski's office.

However, Mr Obama's aides portrayed the discussion differently. "President Kaczynski raised missile defence, but president-elect Obama made no commitment on it," Denis McDonough, Mr Obama's senior foreign policy adviser, said in a statement.

"His position is as it was throughout the campaign, that he supports deploying a missile defence system when the technology is proved to be workable."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed an agreement with the Polish government in August pledging to modernise Poland's military in exchange for the former Soviet satellite hosting 10 interceptor missiles. Russia has repeatedly criticised the system as posing a threat to its territory. Just hours after Mr Obama won the presidential election last week, President Medvedev said he would station short-range Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave wedged between Poland and Lithuania, to "neutralise" the planned defence system.

Mr Obama and Mr Medvedev spoke by phone on Saturday and agreed to meet soon, according to Russian officials. The president-elect's office has been careful since the election not to go into detail publicly about his foreign policy plans, wary of treading on President Bush's toes and projecting an incoherent sense of America's position over the next two months, and did not comment on the phone conversation.

In his discussion with the future US president, China's Hu Jintao said Beijing and Washington should "accommodate each other's concerns", according to Chinese state media reports, while in Madrid, Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said he had "a very, very cordial" phone conversation with Mr Obama.

A Government spokesman said Taoiseach Brian Cowen had sent a message of congratulation and goodwill to the president-elect through the Irish Ambassador to the US. There were as yet no firm plans for a phone call between the two leaders.

On domestic affairs, Democratic congressional leaders urged treasury secretary Henry Paulson to use the $700 billion rescue bill passed last month to provide temporary aid to the US car industry.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid sent a letter to Mr Paulson on Saturday saying the rescue bill gives him "broad discretion to purchase, or make commitments to purchase, financial instruments you determine necessary to restore financial-market stability".

Elsewhere, organisers of the presidential inauguration warned consumers to be sceptical of tickets being offered for sale online for the swearing-in ceremony.

With 72 days to go, ticket offers are already appearing on the internet, with one website purporting to sell seats at prices ranging from $1,500 to $21,000 each.

But a congressional spokeswoman said the 240,000 free tickets were currently in a "secure location" and would not be handed out until a few days before the event.