US, Czech Republic Sign Missile Defense Deal

Tuesday, 08 July 2008 11:47 by: Anonymous

US, Czech Republic Sign Missile Defense Deal

    Prague - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed a missile defence deal with the Czech Republic on Tuesday, describing it as a step forward for global security despite staunch Russian opposition.

    The accord permits the siting of a radar station on Czech soil as part of an extended US missile shield that Washington says is necessary to ward off potential attacks by so-called "rogue" states such as Iran.

    The United States wants the radar twinned with interceptor missiles in neighbouring Poland, although negotiations with Warsaw have becomed bogged down with Polish demands for additional security guarantees.

    "This missile defence agreement is significant as a building block not just for the security of the United States and the Czech Republic but also for the security of NATO and the security of the international community as a whole," Rice said.

    "Ballistic missile proliferation is not an imaginary threat," she added.

    Russia has denounced the plan as a provocative threat to its own security, despite repeated US assurances.

    "We want the system to be transparent to the Russians," Rice insisted Tuesday.

    The United States has in the past suggested that Russian inspectors could visit the anti-missile sites, as long as Prague and Warsaw agreed.

    In Prague, protestors from Greenpeace unrolled a massive image of a target across the city's skyline ahead of Rice's arrival.

    "Do not make a target of us," proclaimed the banner at Letna hill overlooking the Czech capital at the foot of a giant metronome erected by the artist Vratislav Novak in 1991 following the collapse of the communist regime.

    Polls regularly show around two-thirds of Czech opposed to hosting the US radar.

    Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said the deal reflected a "joint desire to protect the free world."

    Prague was the first leg of a three-country tour that will take Rice to Bulgaria and Georgia where she will renew US support for Tblisi's bid for NATO membership - another bone of contention with Moscow.

    She will also try to calm tensions between Moscow and Tblisi over the separatist Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

    "We have said both Georgia and Russia need to avoid provocative behaviour but frankly some of the things the Russians did over the last couple of months added to tension in the region," Rice said, citing Moscow's failure to consult with Georgia over a presidential order offering Abkhazia direct relations.

    "Georgia is an independent state. It has to be treated like one," Rice added.

    "I want to make very clear that the US commitment to Georgia's territorial integrity is strong," she added.

    Georgia regularly accuses Russia of seeking to annex South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and derailing its efforts to join the NATO military alliance. Russia in turn accuses Tbilisi of preparing to take back the breakaway regions by force.

    Rice said she would not be visiting Poland, where 14 months of talks have so far failed to resolve obstacles to the siting of the proposed US interceptor missiles.

    "There are remaining issues, but the United States has made a very generous offer" to the Poles who want to improve their air defences, Rice said.

    NATO endorsed the US missile defence plan at its April summit in the Bucharest.

Last modified on Tuesday, 08 July 2008 12:17