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Obama comes to Prague

After government collapse, Czechs lament lost opportunity ahead of EU-US summit.

At the start of the year Europeans were reminded, yet again, of their dependence on oil and gas deliveries from Russia. Key pipelines transit through the Ukraine — but, not for the first time, the flow of gas was interrupted, with Russia and Ukraine each laying blame on the other. Energy security had been a priority for the Czech EU presidency, which ends June 30, when Sweden takes over.

The climate change discussion is taking on increased urgency — not just because some leading scientists now say we really only have until 2030 to avoid irreversible warming — but also because countries are now looking to complete a follow-up agreement to the Kyoto Protocol at a climate change summit in Copenhagen in December.

Former President George W. Bush provoked European ire long before the Iraq war by famously rejecting the Kyoto Protocol. The protocol, which called on countries to reduce their emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon monoxide, is set to expire in 2012 — hence the need for a new agreement.

Obama's speech could end up being the most significant event of his visit, especially if he does actually call for the elimination of nuclear weapons. It is imbued with added significance because it will be the only speech he will make during his swing through Europe that is open to the public. Officials estimate 30,000 people could attend. Security will be predictably tight, with thousands of additional police on duty.

The prospects of a nuclear-free world will undoubtedly be applauded by many, but for Ehl, the newspaper editor, there is concern that the country will again be reduced to a patch of land sitting — vulnerable — between greater powers.

“This will be a major global speech, not just for Czech Republic, but we are afraid that he will be too close to Russia,” Ehl said. “Afraid is maybe too strong an expression, but there might be some fear that we will again be some space in between.”

For more than two years Prime Minister Topolanek's right-of-center government has sought to build closer ties with Washington by pursuing an agreement to house a radar base, as part of the U.S.-planned missile defense deployment in Europe. An accompanying interceptor base would be built in Poland.

“We are a bit afraid that (Obama) will be much more open towards Russia than his predecessor,” Ehl continued. “And we are afraid that the Czech-U.S. relations ... will become a victim of this new relationship between the U.S. and Russia.”

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