Image: Sarkozy
Michel Euler  /  AP
French President Nicolas Sarkozy speaks with reporters at the end of the Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy in Washington on Saturday.
updated 11/15/2008 6:52:45 PM ET 2008-11-15T23:52:45

French President Nicolas Sarkozy backed down from comments critical of a planned U.S. missile defense system in Europe.

At a summit with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday, Sarkozy said the missile shield plans were misguided and will not make Europe safer. Those comments had been the strongest to date by an American ally against the missile-defense plans — and undercut the rationale behind President George W. Bush's European security strategy.

But after Saturday's global financial summit with other world leaders, Sarkozy said: "Ultimately, it could be a complement against a missile threat coming from elsewhere, for example, Iran."

The plans for using sites in Poland and the Czech Republic have infuriated Russia despite the Bush administration's insistence that they are aimed at protecting Europe from Iran.

President-elect Barack Obama has not been explicit about his intentions on European missile defense, saying it would be prudent to "explore the possibility" but expressing some skepticism about the technical capability of U.S. missile defenses.

Moscow sees the defense plans as a Cold War-style project that could eliminate Russia's nuclear deterrent or spy on its military installations. Much of Western Europe is nervous about the idea of such major defensive weaponry stationed around the continent.

But Poland and the Czech Republic, where bad memories of Soviet domination run deep, hope Obama follows through on the plans.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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