Barack Obama drew cheers from an estimated 30,000 Czechs as he declared Sunday that, "I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons."
Obama's restatement of his administration's commitment to negotiate a fresh arms reduction treaty with Russia was greeted with enthusiasm in Prague, as was his pledge to work to convince countries around the world to abandon nuclear weapons as a means of security and aggression.
"As the only nuclear power who have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act," explained Obama, in a speech broke, at least rhetorically, from the Bush administration's hardline stances with regard to nuclear issues. "We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can start it."
Unfortunately, the president put a damper on the celebration when he revealed a slow timeline. "This goal will not be reached quickly -- perhaps not in my lifetime," Obama explained. "It will take patience and persistence. But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change."
And the president pretty much ended the party with his announcement that that the United States would "go forward" with a central-European missile defense system that has sparked intense opposition in the Czech Republic and Poland.
Obama claimed that the system is designed to protect Europe from an attack by Iran. "As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with the missile system," the president claimed. "If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile construction in Europe will be removed."
But that line did not go over particularly well in Prague, where polls suggest that roughly 70 percent of Czech citizens oppose the missile shield project, key components of which would be positioned in the republic.
The Czech parliament has refused to ratify and agreement for siting the missile shield radar tracking system outside Prague.
As Obama spoke, crowds of anti-shield protesters, clad in white hazardous-material protection suits, demonstrated nearby.
From the U.S. came a mixed review of the Obama speech by Kevin Martin, executive director of Peace Action, the peace and disarmament organization that traces its roots to the old Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy and the Nuclear Freeze movement of the 1980s.
"President Obama's Prague speech was important in terms of re-asserting U.S. leadership on nuclear disarmament issues. U.S. Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, negotiations on an arms reduction treaty with Russia, pursuit of a treaty to ban fissile materials and strengthened non-proliferation policies are all crucial to progress towards a nuclear-weapons free world," said Martin.
But, he added, "President Obama's statement that such a world might not be achieved in his lifetime is very disappointing. Obama can and should announce the initiation of negotiations on the global elimination of nuclear weapons. Similarly, his promotion of nuclear power, missile defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic and his escalation of troops in Afghanistan are all moves in the wrong direction."