The US Vice-President, Joe Biden, met with Czech officials in Prague on Friday on the third leg of his Eastern European tour intended to test the ground for the region’s participation in a new US missile defence plan. At a news conference following the talks, Mr Biden and Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer said the Czech Republic was ready to get involved in the revamped project.
US Vice-President Joe Biden is coming to Prague, the third leg of his Eastern European tour. Some five weeks after the Obama administration shelved plans to build elements of missile defence in the Czech Republic and Poland, Mr Biden is expected to dispel concerns that the United States has pushed the region to the periphery of its interest. The head of Political Science Institute of Prague’s Charles University, Bořivoj Hnízdo, says any reassurance Mr Biden can give the Czech Republic will be very important.
The Czech internet news site iDnes has reported that the Czech military is planning on buying two sets of Ravens - remote-controlled miniature unmanned aerial vehicles (MUAV) - from the US firm Aero Vironment for 20 million crowns. The sale is to take place by the end of November, the site reported. The sale covers six planes, including logistics. The planes are to be deployed with the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) now operating in the province Logar, a military spokesman said. The Ravens are compatible within NATO, can be launched easily, and at full speed can fly up to 95 kilometres per hour. They are used largely for reconnaissance missions.
The Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout was in New York on Monday for talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On the table: possible future cooperation in US missile defence, a move to apparently reassure US partners in Europe that the US wasn’t abandoning the region even if it had scrapped plans for radar and rocket installations in the Czech Republic and Poland.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has written an opinion piece in the Sunday edition of the New York Times in which he calls the future of missile defense in Europe “secure”. The article outlines a new direction for the US after earlier plans for an advance radar in the Czech Republic, and interceptor rockets in Poland, were scrapped by the US this week. In the article, Mr Gates contends that the earlier system (aimed at defending against long-range missiles) was suitable but based on earlier technology and threat assessments. In its new plan, the US is hoping to deploy sea-based systems by 2011, followed by ground-based anti-rocket missiles later. In his op-ed, the defense secretary challenged critics who said the US had made a concession to Russia, stressing that Russian opposition to the earlier defence plans had played “no part” in his recommendation to US President Barack Obama.
The Czech Republic is to continue negotiations with the US on possible participation on a new type of missile defence shield, the Czech Defence Minister Martin Barták has said. On Friday, he met with officials in Washington including US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and the head of the US National Security Council James Jones. Further high-level talks are expected by the end of the year and the Czechs have expressed an interest in having their experts join the Missile Defence Agency (MDA). The latest developments come after the US scrapped plans for a tracking radar in the Czech Republic and interceptor rockets in Poland this week – components of a system backed by former US president George W. Bush. Instead, the US will now look into creating a mobile ground-based system, blocking the threat of short and mid-range rockets, which could go into operation in 2015. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates made clear on Friday that the Czech Republic and Poland but also other EU countries were possible candidates for participation in the project.
The Czech Republic and Poland were the centre of world attention on Thursday, when the United States announced that it was abandoning plans to place parts of an anti-missile shield in the two countries: specifically a rocket base in Poland linked to a radar base in the Czech Republic. Washington’s decision has dashed Czech and Polish hopes for special relations with their US allies. So, will the overhaul of America’s defence strategy lead to a rethink of Czech security policy? And should central and eastern European states fear a rise in Russia’s
The Social Democratic Party, which opposed the radar plans, called the announcement a victory for the Czech people and said that the development proved their argument that there was no rationale for a missile defence shield in the Czech Republic. Former prime minister and Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolánek said that the cancellation of the radar was a direct result of the fall of his government, uncertainty around elections and the perception of the Czech Republic as an unreliable partner. Former foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who signed a bilateral agreement on the radar with the Americans last year, said the decision was intended primarily as an incentive for Russia and Iran ahead of six-nation nuclear talks with Iran planned for October. Spokesman of the No to Bases civic initiative Jan Májíček said that the American administration would have decided differently had both bilateral radar agreements been ratified, and that the active resistance of Czech citizens had prevented that. The No to Bases initiative was to begin a bus tour on Thursday protesting the radar.
The United States has abandoned plans to build a tracking radar base in
the Czech Republic. Prime Minister Jan Fischer has confirmed he was
informed of the decision by US President Barack Obama by phone on
night. The United States government says its decision stems from the fact
that Iran's long-range missile program has not progressed as rapidly as
previously estimated. Washington is yet to formally inform Prague.
The radar base was to be part of a US anti-missile defence shield in Europe. In July 2008, Prague signed a treaty with Washington about positioning the facility in central Bohemia. Poland was to host a launching pad with ten intercepting missiles. The anti-missile defence shield project provoked controversy both in the Czech Republic and Russia which viewed it as a security threat.
The Czech minister of foreign affairs, Jan Kohout, said the United States is not abandoning missile defence altogether, but plans to refashion its plan as a joint NATO endeavour. Speaking after a meeting with American officials, Mr Kohout said that the new conception involved a more flexible, more effective and cheaper system that would serve primarily to thwart short- and medium-range missiles targeting any part of Europe. The Czech Republic, he said, would determine its level of involvement in the programme.
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