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Bush Seeks To Soothe Russia And China Over Missile Tensions

"My friend, Vladimir Putin, is making this to be a case where somehow this is going to jeopardize relations in Europe and it's going to make the world a more dangerous place -- quite the opposite," US President Bush said in the interview.Czech villagers vote against US defence shield
Prague (AFP) June 2 - More than 1,000 Czech villagers on Saturday voted against their country's participation in a controversial US anti-missile shield which could see a radar station being built near their homes. Residents from the villages of Hvozdany, Tyne and Zajecov overwhelmingly gave their thumbs down to the project, which has raised tensions between Russia and the United States, two Cold War-era foes. In Hvozdany, 381 of the village's 409 voters said they opposed the move. In other referendums also held Saturday, an overwhelming majority -- 728 people from Zajecov and 139 residents of Tyne -- voiced their opposition.

"This result has surpassed my expectations. It signifies for us an commitment to continue to do all that we can so that the radar is not set up here," Zajecov's mayor Josef Hruby told AFP. The results of the referendums are however in no way binding on the Czech government, which will take a final decision after the issue is put to vote in parliament, probably at the start of next year. The votes were held 48 hours before US President George W. Bush arrives in Prague on a two-day visit, which will largely be dominated by the issue. Some 60 percent of Czechs appear opposed to the project.

Moscow has repeated warnings over the deployment of a tracking radar in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland, which Washington says is a defensive move aimed at protecting against a missile attack from the Middle East, notably from Iran. Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that it could relaunch an "arms race" and turn Europe into a "powder keg." Bilateral negotiations between Washington and Prague and Warsaw were launched in May concerning the framework for the two countries to host the US bases and staff. Prague wants the shield to be integrated in a NATO defensive system, a request which has created rifts between its Atlantic alliance allies.

by Laurent Lozano
Washington (AFP) June 01, 2007
US President George W. Bush reached out to Russia Friday to soothe concerns over a planned US missile defense program that has cranked tension between the allies and fears of a Cold War-style arms race. "The Cold War is over. We're now into the 21st century, where we need to deal with the true threats, which are threats of radical extremists ... and the threats of proliferation," Bush said in an interview with several European newspapers.

He was speaking ahead of the G8 summit of leading industrialized nations in Germany from June 6 to 8, where he is due to meet with his ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The United States has angered Russia with plans to expand its missile defense shield into central Europe. Russia sees the planned installations as a security threat.

The rhetoric in the dispute escalated Tuesday when Russia announced it had successfully tested a new ballistic rocket. Putin has this week also accused the United States of igniting "a new arms race" and said deploying the missile shield would be "transform Europe into a powder keg."

"My friend, Vladimir Putin, is making this to be a case where somehow this is going to jeopardize relations in Europe and it's going to make the world a more dangerous place -- quite the opposite," Bush said in the interview.

The United States says the system, involving a planned radar base in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland, would defend Europe against threats from Iran and North Korea, while posing no threat to Russia.

But Putin is furious at the plans.

"He is concerned about the missile defense system. He thinks it's aimed at him. It's not. It's aimed at rogue regimes that would use a missile to achieve political objective or to create unrest," Bush said.

The United States has previously named Iran and North Korea as possible threats to be tackled by the shield system. It suspects Tehran of seeking to make nuclear bombs, but Iran says its nuclear program is only for atomic power.

Bush stressed that he and Putin agree on the Iranian nuclear issue and on opposition to North Korean nuclear proliferation.

"The reason one advocates and works for a missile defense system is to protect free peoples from the launch of a missile from a hostile regime," he said. "Russia is not hostile. Russia is a friend."

"There's a lot of work we can do together to deal with these threats. And that's what I'll continue talking to President Putin about," at the G8 summit and also when the Russian leader visits the United States in July, Bush said.

He also said he would raise concerns over democracy in Russia.

"Vladimir Putin will tell me that Russia is a democracy and that he's advancing democracy. We have got some questions about that, of course."

On Thursday US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took another jab at Russia, saying the country needed to improve its human rights record and work with the West.

"We want Russia to be strong, but strong in 21st century terms -- not just with a strong center, but with strong, independent institutions," she said, highlighting the need for a strong media, free elections and an independent judiciary.

"Democratic institutions and an open society are not a source of weakness. Nor is freedom of speech and freedom of the press a nuisance," she said during a trip to Germany.

Bush also raised the diplomatic dispute between Russia and its ex-Soviet neighbor Estonia, a US ally, and the "difficult issue" of Kosovo, whose independence from Serbia is supported by key UN powers but opposed by Russia.

"Disagreement on issues doesn't mean that the relations aren't cordial," Bush insisted.

"My relationship with Russia is firm. I tell people what I believe based upon certain principles. But it's going to be in such a way that treats people with respect."

earlier related report
US offers China briefings on missile defence
Singapore (AFP) June 3 - US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday offered China briefings on the US missile defence system to reassure them that it does not threaten China's nuclear deterrent.

His remarks, at the end of a two-day conference on Asian security, followed a top Chinese general's criticism of defences being developed by the United States and Japan to protect against North Korean missiles.

"I'm not sure why they are so worried," Gates said. "Just as with the Russians, we would be pleased to sit down with them and talk about the capabilities and technical characteristics of this system and its limitation.

"There may just not be a clear understanding on the part of the Chinese about what we have in mind can and cannot do," he said.

Lieutenant General Zhang Qinsheng, the chief of military intelligence of the People's Liberation Army, objected to the US-Japanese missile defence project in a speech Saturday at the Shangri-La Dialogue on regional security issues.

Zhang's concerns echo those of Russia, which fiercely opposes US plans to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic to protect against missiles from Iran.

To overcome Moscow's opposition, Gates in April offered the Russians what he said was an unprecedented partnership in missile defence and inspections sites in Alaska and California.

Asked whether the United States would offer the same to China, Gates told reporters, "I think if the Chinese were to express an interest in it we would certainly take it seriously."

He said the US system was designed to thwart limited attacks by rogue states or terrorists, not to defeat a large-scale threat of the kind posed by the long-range missile arsenals of Russia and China.

"So anything we can do to provide transparency on that point and help people understand the capabilities and characteristics of these systems, we're prepared to do it," he said.

Gates is trying to encourage greater interaction with the Chinese military, in part to avoid miscalculations as it undertakes a major build-up of its forces.

Zhang said China was prepared to establish a "hotline" between the US and Chinese defence ministries, meeting a long-standing US objective, and that China was making gradual progress on US demands for greater transparence.

But mistrust between the two countries is high.

A Pentagon report last week detailed China's push to acquire advanced warships, submarines, aircraft and missiles, saying it would allow China to project power far beyond its shores and alter regional military balances.

Zhang, who called the Pentagon report "unreliable," raised it on the sidelines of the conference with General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"The Chinese are not happy with our depiction of their armed forces," Pace said.

"I recommended that they invite the authors of the report to China to sit down and have discussion about what it is they think we see about them that they don't see about themselves. And just get it on the table, in a very open way, for discussion," he said.

"The way ahead from my standpoint is more discussion, more transparency, if they want to have an impact on reports in the future," he said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Taiwan's Top Satellite Official Arrested On Graft Charges
Taipei (AFP) May 31, 2007
The top government official in charge of satellite research and development in Taiwan was arrested Thursday on corruption charges, a prosecutor said. Lance Wu, the head of the National Space Program Office, was taken into custody after being questioned overnight, Lin Lih-yng, a prosecutor at the Hsinch District Court, told AFP.

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