Prague: President Barack Obama on Friday briskly capped his latest mission abroad, squeezing in some diplomacy with his host, Czech President Vaclav Klaus, and heading home with his signature nuclear arms pact with Russia.
Obama stayed the night in Prague for a diplomatic must-do: a one-on-one meeting with Klaus, the leader whose country served as the staging ground for the US-Russia treaty ceremony on Thursday. But the session took on a perfunctory air, as Obama spent less than 40 minutes at Prague Castle before speeding off to Air Force One and starting his return flight to Washington.
The two leaders offered no comments to reporters.
Obama came to seal a deal that had been a tough year in the making — a pact with Russia to trim both nations` nuclear arsenals. The treaty, signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday, commits their nations to cut their strategic nuclear warheads by one-third and more than halve the number of missiles, submarines and bombers carrying them.
Yet Obama also showed attention to East European concerns, holding a dinner with Klaus and leaders from 10 other Central and Eastern European nations formerly in or near Moscow`s orbit, and reassuring them of a shared security alliance.
Central and Eastern Europe has long been worried about Moscow`s reach, and those concerns have deepened since Obama took office and focused so intently on improving ties with Russia. Under president George W Bush, virtually the opposite was true: He lavished attention on Central and Eastern Europe nations, which offered him support he could find nowhere else in Europe.
So the large dinner Obama hosted at the US ambassador`s residence for regional leaders was intended as a gesture of reassurance and friendship.
"The very fact that such reassurances need to be emphasised indicates that several capitals in the region remain troubled — not just about Russia`s aspirations in the neighbourhood, but about US and NATO policy towards Russia," said Janusz Bugajski, an expert in Southeast European affairs at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Overall, Obama spent just more than 24 hours in Prague.
Awaiting him at home is a major summit, as leaders of 47 countries will gather on Monday in an effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, crack down on illicit nuclear trafficking and lock down vulnerable nuclear materials around the world.