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Czech Security Council Clears Anti-Missile Base Talks With US

Paul Rosenzweig, assistant secretary for international affairs of the US Department of Homeland Security, addresses media 24 January 2007 in Prague. He said that the US visa requirements for Czechs could be lifted before the end of President George Bush's tenure in January 2009. Photo courtesy AFP.

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by Staff Writers
Prague (AFP) Jan 24, 2007
Government leaders in the Czech Republic Wednesday approved the opening of negotiations with the United States over the siting of a US missile defence system there, President Vaclav Klaus announced. "I expressed my agreement with the fact that the State Security Council cleared negotiations to continue over this question," Klaus told journalists after the meeting.

"This is purely a political decision, it is the debate within the two chambers of parliament that will be of crucial importance," he said.

The Senate and the lower house must still approve the decision.

The State Security Council, composed of the prime minister and key ministers, oversees state security questions. The president, as the head of the armed forces, can take part in its meetings.

Washington has made an official request for the Czech Republic and Poland to play key roles in the expansion of its anti-missile protection system by siting a radar station and interceptor missiles on their soil.

The US, which already has a network of early warning satellites, radars and interceptor missiles in Alaska and California, wants to extend its defence umbrella to Europe by 2011 to deal with the threat of possible rocket attacks from Iran or North Korea.

Prague expects negotiations over details of a US site and a decision on whether to accept it to take around a year, rightwing Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said.

The deployment of the US missile shield in Central Europe would "not only reinforce the security of the Czech Republic but also its allies," he said following Wednesday's meeting, adding that the US project is "strictly defensive" and in line with NATO plans.

Topolanek rejected as "out of the question" parallels made by opponents of the proposed US base with the occupation of Communist Czechoslovakia in August 1968 by Warsaw Pact forces.

"The occupation was imposed upon us from outside while this time it is a decision which we ourselves will make," the head of the recently installed centre-right administration added.

Czech foreign and defence ministers are to create committees to pursue negotiations with the US while the interior ministry will weigh up the possible risks, Topolanek said.

President Klaus expects to raise the issue during talks with his Polish counterpart, Lech Kaczynski, on Thursday and with Russian President Vladimir Putin in April.

The Putin meeting will aim to quell Russian fears, expressed by top army officials in recent days, about a US anti-missile base being placed in Central Europe. US assistant secretary for International Affairs, Paul Rosenzweig, said in Prague that Washington makes no direct linkage between Czech acceptance of the radar base and its attempts to win visa-free entry for its citizens to the US.

"This obviously stands apart but clearly obviously bears some relationship to the state of overall US-Czech relations," he said.

The Czech Republic is one of 13 countries with which the US is working to reshape its visa requirements on the basis of agreements on improved bilateral security procedures.

earlier related report
Russia seeks talks with US, Europeans on US missile defence plan
Moscow (AFP) Jan 23 - The Kremlin said on Tuesday it wanted talks with US and European leaders on a missile defence system that the US wants to deploy in Europe but that Moscow says is a "clear threat" to Russia.

"Russia needs to discuss this with its American and European colleagues," Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kisliak as saying.

"We do not understand why the United States wants to deploy an anti-missile defence system. These plans are not inspired by global security interests," Kisliak said.

The United States confirmed on Monday it had officially asked the Czech Republic and Poland to house the defence shield -- which it says is aimed at warding off potential rocket attacks from North Korea or Iran.

The system, which Washington hopes to install by 2011, comprises a radar station in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles, which could be split between that country and Poland. The US already has a network of alert satellites and radars, as well as anti-missile shields in California and Alaska.

On Monday the commander of Russia's space forces warned that the missile defence system for eastern Europe would pose a "clear threat" to his country.

"Our analysis shows that the location of the US base would be a clear threat to Russia," ITAR-TASS news agency quoted General Vladimir Popovkin as saying.

"It's doubtful that Iranian or North Korean rockets would go across Poland or the Czech Republic... (But) the radar in the Czech Republic would be able to monitor rocket installations in central Russia and the (Russian) Northern Fleet."

Kisliak reiterated Russia's concerns on Tuesday.

"Of course it is the prerogative of every state to guarantee its own security but this must be done without creating a sense of danger in neighbouring states," he insisted.

US, Czech and Polish leaders have rejected Moscow's fears as groundless.

earlier related report
Czech opposition mounts to US missile defence plan
Prague (AFP) Jan 23 - A US plan to set up part of a new missile defence system in the Czech Republic is drawing opposition from local councils worried about having such a facility close by, the Czech news agency CTK reported Tuesday.

Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek announced Saturday that the US government had asked Prague to take part in its plan for a missile defence system by locating a radar station on its territory.

Speculation about the location for the radar station has centered around Jince, in the Brdy mountains southwest of Prague, Libava, in the east and Boletice in the southwest after US experts visited those areas last year.

"In our town we have had bad experiences with foreign military personnel. A US base would not bring us any good," said Josef Rihak, the mayor of the central Czech town of Pribram, located near Jince.

A military base in Jince was used during the Communist era as a base for Soviet ground-to-air Vega S200 missiles.

Rihak said the local population should be consulted before any final decision is made on the location of the radar station.

"I am not in favour of a national referendum on this issue but, on the other hand, some sort of local consultation should be held," Rihak added.

The mayor of another village, Hlubos, Jiri Prokes, described the proposed US radar base as a "target on our back."

The State Security Council is due to hold a special meeting on the poposal on Wednesday, with Czech President Vaclav Klaus due to take part in the discussion.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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New Delhi (RIA Novosti) Jan 25, 2007
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