Agreement on missile defence between the Czech Republic and the United States on verge of being reached

An agreement between the Czech Republic and the United States on the deployment of a tracking radar on Czech territory, part of an American anti-missile defence system, could soon be concluded. A Pentagon spokesperson said on Tuesday that a final deal could be struck within weeks. Czech officials have been more careful to set a date: the Foreign Ministry expects negotiations with the US to be finalized before a NATO summit in Bucharest in early April.

Negotiations between the Czech Republic and the United States over the positioning of a US-operated tracking radar base in the area of Brdy, some 70 km southwest of Prague, are soon to be concluded. A spokesperson for the Pentagon said on Tuesday that consensus between the two countries’ governments is likely to be reached in a matter of weeks. Veronika Kuchyňová-Šmigolová is the director of the security policy department at the Czech Foreign Ministry.

“We have been saying for some time now that our positions on the text of the agreement were very close and that it was very likely that it would be agreed in March or before the NATO summit in Bucharest at the beginning of April. If we agree on everything, we should have the text by then. After that, the ratification process will start but that’s another story. That can take months and it will be up to Parliament to decide.”

While the Czech Republic is expected to host an American radar base, the other part of the missile shield consisting of ten intercepting rockets, is expected to be deployed in Poland. Coordination of the Czech and Polish views on the issue was the main topic on the agenda during a visit by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk to Prague in January. I asked Ms Kuchyňová-Šmigolová if a delay in the Polish – American talks would have an impact on Czech foreign policy in this respect.

“We are talking about a third side that consists of the radar and ten interceptors which should be placed in Poland. In that sense, progress on the Polish side is very important to us as well. In a way it is understandable that Poland, with a new government, needs some time to examine the text of the agreements. They have a slightly different position than their previous government on some issues but we are in close contact with our Polish counterpart.”

Calin Popescu Tariceanu and Mirek Topolánek,  photo: CTK
The American missile defence system in the Czech Republic has met with disapproval from some within the country as well as abroad. While a recent poll showed that more than two thirds of Czechs oppose the plan, several countries in the region, including Russia and Germany have also voiced objections. Most recently, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said that the entire missile shield is not needed at all. But not all reactions have been negative: Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek got support from his Romanian counterpart Calin Popescu Tariceanu, who visited the Czech Republic on Tuesday: he said both his country and neighbouring Bulgaria supported an expansion of the missile defence system to also protect their countries. Ms Kuchyňová-Šmigolová again:

“This is indeed very helpful. We want all of our NATO allies to be covered by the anti-missile system. His words are actually an argument for a speedy interconnection of the US and the NATO systems. The NATO system will be aimed at short and medium range missiles while the US shield is protection against ballistic missiles. Romania in fact does not need protection against ballistic missiles from the region of the Middle East because of its proximity. But they should be definitely covered and protected by the NATO system.”

Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek is to meet US President George W. Bush in Washington by the end of February. Could a final agreement be concluded then?

“It’s possible that some of the remaining issues will be discussed on the level of the Prime Minister and President Bush and they might reach an agreement.”