Meanwhile, NATO reaffirmed on Monday its backing for a planned U.S. missile shield in Europe after French President Nicolas Sarkozy said it would bring no extra security on the continent. NATO leaders including Sarkozy welcomed U.S. plans to deploy the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic as a "substantial contribution to the protection of allies" at a summit in Bucharest last April. But after talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday, Sarkozy said that deploying the U.S. anti-missile system would do "nothing to bring security and complicates things". Mr. Sarkozy said he had won Russian backing for talks on security in Europe next year and urged a freeze in missile deployments by Moscow and the United States until then. His remarks were immediately questioned by Czech politicians who said Mr. Sarkozy had no mandate for his remarks.
In Prague, supporters and opponents of the radar took to the streets to voice their opinions on Monday. They clashed on several occasions and at Prague’s Národní třída they got into a verbal conflict with members of the public who came to pay their respects to the victims of communism. The two sides exchanged angry words when people asked the demonstrators to take their banners elsewhere and not to make use of the occasion for their own activities. The police eventually stepped in, asking demonstrators to keep at a distance from the memorial.
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg met with his Polish counterpart Radoslaw Sikorski in Prague on Friday. Mr Sikorski told journalists after the meeting that both countries hope the project to expand the US anti-missile defence shield to Central Europe will continue. He said he expected the US president-elect Barack Obama to respect the decision of his predecessor. The United States wants to install a tracking radar on Czech soil and interceptor missiles in Poland as part of a broader missile defence shield in Europe. Czech and US government representatives signed the relevant treaties earlier this year, but they still have to be approved by Parliament.
Czech scientists will receive some 12 million crowns for radar research from the Pentagon by the end of this year. The Czech Technical University in Prague this week signed the first bilateral agreement with the US, securing some 5 million crowns for the development of special software. The Institute of Physics of the Academy of Sciences is set to receive the same amount.
In this edition of One on One, we talk to the US ambassador to the Czech Republic Richard Graber about current issues in Czech-American relations including the positioning of a planned US radar base on Czech territory, visa-free travel to the United States, and about possible changes to Czech-American relations might see under the new US administration.
A new poll released by the CVVM agency has suggested that two-thirds of Czechs remain opposed to the planned stationing of a US radar base on Czech soil. Also, more than 70 percent of those queried said they wanted a referendum to be held on the issue. The government, headed by the Civic Democrats, led negotiations with the US leading to the signing of two treaties on the base (to be ratified in Parliament), but opposition remains, including even among some in the smaller coalition parties. The Chamber of Deputies is expected to vote on the issue next year. The US is seeking to deploy its base to the Brdy military zone, to complement 10 interceptor rockets in Poland, part of a broader defence shield pursed by the US.
Barack Obama has been congratulated on his election victory by President Václav Klaus, opposition Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek and Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek. But what does Obama's victory mean for the controversial missile defence project, a subject that has so divided Czech politicians? Is the new U.S. president for missile defence, or against?
The whole world was watching on Tuesday night as American voters cast their ballots in one of the most heated US presidential campaigns – including Prague’s American expat community. Several election night parties were held around the city where supporters of both camps stayed up all night, awaiting the results.
Meanwhile contrary to expectations, the Senate has postponed its debate on the US radar until December, when the upper chamber will reflect the outcome of last weekend’s elections to a third of the Senate. Senate chairman Přemysl Sobotka of the Civic Democrats said that his party had initiated the delay for ethical reasons since in the present set up it could be accused of taking an unfair advantage. The Civic Democrats, the strongest party in government, suffered a crushing defeat in the elections losing nine mandates. However with 44 seats in the upper chamber the governing coalition should still have enough votes to get the radar treaties approved.
The lower house of Parliament on Wednesday opened a debate on two Czech-US treaties setting the legal framework for the siting of a US tracking radar on Czech soil. Along with ten interceptor missiles in Poland the tracking radar in the Brdy military area, southwest of Prague, would form part of a broader US missile defense shield intended to protect the United States and a large part of the European continent against missile attacks from states like Iran. The centre-right government on Wednesday won a motion for Parliament to open debate on the two treaties despite fierce opposition from the left-wing parties. A vote is expected to take place some time in December and due to a number of rebels in the governing coalition its outcome is uncertain.
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