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Czech govt wants vote on missile shield after US election

by Staff Writers
Prague (AFP) Oct 29, 2008
The Czech government Wednesday called for delaying a final vote on two agreements with Washington to deploy part of a missile shield system on Czech soil until a new US president takes office.

The lower house of the Czech parliament Wednesday began a debate on the agreements to install a radar facility in the Czech Republic as part of a US missile defence system, which is strongly opposed by Russia.

But Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said his government now wanted to extend the ratification process by six more weeks so that the final vote on the agreements, which must be ratified by both houses of parliament, would take place after the inauguration of US President George W. Bush's successor in late January.

"We want a delay to make sure about the attitude of the new American administration," said Topolanek.

Initially, the Czechs were planning to ratify the missile shield agreements without waiting for the US presidential election results.

For months Topolanek's centre-right government has defended the agreements reached with the Bush administration, but the Czech premier's political position has weakened at home after his liberal ODS party suffered defeats in recent regional and senatorial elections.

Lawmakers and Czech public opinion have been divided over placing the missile defence system in the former communist central European country, and angering Russia.

"These agreements are the result of continuous efforts by the Czech Republic to participate in the anti-missile defence system which responds to our security strategy," Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg told parliament.

US plans call for a radar facility in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in neighbouring Poland by 2011-2013 to complete a system already in place in the United States, Greenland and Britain.

Washington insists the shield, endorsed by NATO this year, is to fend off potential missile attacks by "rogue states" such as Iran.

"The threat of ballistic missiles is potentially possible. I want to state clearly to the citizens of the Czech Republic, the installation of this (radar) base is in our interest," said Topolanek.

Moscow, however, has vehemently objected to the stationing of the missile defences in the former Soviet bloc countries, insisting that the system could one day be turned against Russia's nuclear deterrent.

The Czech left-wing opposition, which is against the radar installation, called the plans just part "of the erroneous policies of the Bush administration," said Jiri Paroubek, head of the Social Democrats who wants a six-month moratorium on the ratification process.

The president of the Czech Senate told the CTK news agency that the upper house of parliament would not take up the issue until December.

If the agreements are ultimately ratified and construction begins next year, the system could be in operation by its target date. The US Defense Intelligence Agency says that Iran could have long-range missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons by 2015 to 2017.

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