US Democrat Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher said on Friday that a proposed US
missile defence system involving radar and missile bases in the Czech
Republic and Poland must be fully incorporated into NATO and it must
protect both Europe and the United States.
Ms Tauscher made her comments in Prague after heading a three-member Congressional delegation, which had talks with Czech politicians on the US plan to station a radar base in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland. Congressmen Jim Cooper (Democrats) and Michael Turner (Republicans) were the other two members of the delegation. Apart from Prague, the American politicians also visited Warsaw and Brussels.
Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Tomas Pojar said he welcomed the fact that the US Congress preferred the missile defence shield to be connected with NATO. The American delegation said that the Democrats and the Republicans clearly agreed on the need for the anti-missile system.
American Secretary of Defence Robert Gates is to visit the Czech Republic to meet with Czech politicians and discuss the possible establishment of a US radar base in the country, according to the Czech Press Agency (CTK). Citing what it calls "a reliable source", CTK says Mr Gates meetings should take place on 20 and 21 October. The US embassy in Prague has so far declined to comment on the report. A number of senior American political figures have already visited the Czech Republic to promote the proposed radar. Nevertheless, opinion polls suggest that a large majority of Czechs are against having the military facility in their country.
Most of Central Europe's Social Democrat leaders have signed a joint statement calling for a moratorium on more ballistic missiles being located in the region. The statement was issued following a meeting in Prague attended by representatives from social democratic parties in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia and Germany. The statement also said that all EU and NATO countries should be involved in negotiations on the placement of a new US missile base and radar station in Poland and the Czech Republic as part of a missile defence shield against so-called rogue states such as Iran. The statement also calls for greater consultation on the issue with Russia, which has been a fierce critic of the proposed military installations. Only the representative from the Hungarian social democrats did not sign the statement.
Czech and American military experts meeting to discuss the possibility of locating a U.S radar base on Czech territory have so far failed to agree on all outstanding issues. The Defence Ministry made the announcement on Wednesday night, a day after a second roubnd of negotiations was launched. A Defence Ministry spokesman added that while no consensus had been reached, progress had been made during the talks. Talks covering the technical aspects of the base last week resulted in agreement on around half the issues covered. The two sides are pushing ahead with negotiations in the hope of seeing an agreement signed by the end of the year. The Czech parliament is to make a final decision on the base early in 2008.
A team of American experts who have been inspecting the potential site of the radar base in the Brdy locality say that if an agreement is reached they would not want to reside in barracks formerly used by Soviet troops who were stationed in the country following the crushing of the Prague Spring reforms. The US team said they would prefer to build their own housing facilities from scratch. The villages bordering on the locality are vehemently opposed to the US radar and the Czech government has attempted to soften their stand with the promise of millions of crowns in state subsidies.
A survey conducted by the US Opinion Research Corporation indicates that the majority of Czechs are opposed to the idea of hosting a US radar base on Czech territory. According to the survey results 51 percent of respondents were strongly opposed to the idea, and another ten percent remain unsure. Only a third of Czechs said they approve of the plan. 57 percent of respondents said they did not believe that a US radar base in the country would increase the Czech Republic's security. Washington wants to expand its missile defense system to central Europe and would like to deploy a radar base in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in neighboring Poland. Neither country has as yet made a final decision.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has said it would be imprudent for ethnic Albanian leaders to declare Kosovo's independence ahead of an agreement. Mr. Schwarzenberg issued the warning at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Portugal where they are trying to forge a united front on the future of Kosovo. Serbian and Kosovo officials have been holding talks to settle the future status of the province but have made scant progress. The US has now said that it would recognize Kosovo should its ethnic Albanian leaders declare independence out of frustration at the lack of progress. Minister Schwarzenberg said a one-sided move would create much enmity and could spark a new wave of violence in the Balkans. The talks between Belgrade and Pristina are being supervised by Russia, the United States and the 27 member EU. Russia is firmly backing its ally Serbia while the EU remains divided over the issue.
The Czech government held a special session on Wednesday in a small town near the site of the proposed US radar base, part of Washington's plans to build a missile defence system in Central Europe. Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek promised local mayors they would receive substantial state funds to improve infrastructure. So far, however, the offer has received a lukewarm response.
The Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, says it is necessary to achieve a certain national consensus on the building of an American radar base in central Bohemia. Speaking after talks with US congressman Trent Franks in Prague, Mr Klaus said if the base was approved by the slimmest of majorities in the lower house it would create room for various potential problems in the future. The Czech Parliament is set to decide on the planned US base in the early part of next year.
The possible stationing of a US radar base on Czech territory, as part of an expanded US missile defense system, is causing controversy both at home and abroad. Russia remains vehemently opposed to the plan, Austria has called it a provocation and villages in the area where it may be located are rallying against it.