Czechs Sign On for a Controversial Missile-Defense System

It's a partial win for President Bush, but Czech public opposition still might derail the deal.

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The United States and the Czech Republic on Tuesday signed an initial agreement to begin basing part of a U.S. missile shield in the former Soviet satellite, the Associated Press reports. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the shield is a good development for the Czech Republic and for Poland, where the United States hopes to place another part of the system. Warsaw has raised issues that have delayed agreement on that part of the envisioned shield, which U.S. officials say is directed particularly at a future ballistic missile threat from Iran.

As U.S. News reported recently, there have been public protests in the Czech Republic against the missile deal. A recent poll showed about two thirds of Czechs are against the plan. Opponents still hope to block ratification of the treaty in the parliament, where the government has just 100 seats in the 200-seat chamber. The Czech government doesn't plan to submit the deal to the parliament until after the next general elections, planned for 2010.

The proposed U.S. missile defense system calls for a tracking radar to be built in Brdy, 55 miles southwest of the capital, Prague, and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland. Talks with Poland have run into trouble over Warsaw's demand for billions of dollars to modernize its army and air defenses. Rice said Iran continues to work on capabilities it might one day use to build a nuclear bomb, along with long-range missiles that could carry a warhead. "Ballistic missile proliferation is not an imaginary threat," she said after meeting Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek.