Czech, US officials close another round of radar talks

Czech and American diplomats concluded another round of talks in Prague on Tuesday on the possible positioning of an American-operated radar base in the Czech Republic. While US Defence Secretary Robert Gates caught Czech politicians by surprise last month when he spoke of the possibility of a Russian 'presence' at the base, his deputy Eric Edelman, who headed the US delegation this time, assured the Czechs that no such thing is planned. Veronika Kuchynova Smigolova, the head of the Czech Foreign Ministry's department of security policy, was on the Czech board of negotiators. She told Radio Prague what the main issues of the talks in Prague were.

"One important issue is the way how the system will operate within NATO. Both sides agreed to incorporate the system into NATO architecture. Another important part is the Czech commander of the base. There will be a US commander of the radar and there will also be a Czech commander of the base with his staff, his office at the base; that's an important principle for us. Another important issue we discussed and we agreed on are inspections. We agreed that we will approve each other's inspections while together we will have to approve of any inspections by third parties. This is important especially in the context of the past discussions about possible Russian participation. We all agreed that there was never a talk of Russian presence; it was about monitoring, about experts, about exchange of data on reciprocal basis. The US side did not talk about any continuous Russian presence and we don't know how something like that would be possible."

When you say Czech commander of the base, does that mean that the Czech army will be in charge of the whole base? Will it be under Czech command?

"The command and the control of the radar will be in US hands; that is clear because the system is American, the radar will be built by Americans. But the base as such, which is a part of a Czech military training area, will be run jointly. Not the radar itself, but the base, definitely."

Is the American side aware of the fact that the idea of the positioning of an American-operated radar base here is not very popular among the Czech public?

"I think that the American side is aware of that. But it's not a task of the negotiating team to make the base more popular. Our task, and also the task of our US partners, is to arrive at a good agreement that will meet all our concerns. Then, consequently, if the concerns related to the environment, to the health risks posed by the radar, and so on are met, this could make the radar more popular with the public."

When do you expect the final deal to be closed?

"We have set any deadlines for the negotiations but realistically, early spring, I think, can be the time when we have the final version of the agreement that will have to go to the government, the parliament and the president for ratification."