Czechs, U.S. hail agreement on radar base as NATO prepares endorsement

Photo: CTK

It’s being hailed as the biggest NATO summit ever – leaders of the 26 NATO countries are in the Romanian capital Bucharest at the moment for key talks on everything from Macedonia’s membership to the war in Afghanistan. But for the Czech delegation the most important issue on the table is the U.S. plan to build a radar base about 75km southwest of Prague. The NATO summit, it seems, has produced a breakthrough.

The Czech delegation clinched a crucial deal with the United States in Bucharest on deploying a radar base on Czech soil as part of the U.S. missile defence shield. Negotiators announced in Bucharest that after months of talks, an agreement on the main treaty had finally been reached, although talks on a second treaty – the Status of Forces Agreement or SOFA – are still ongoing. Martin Povejšil is the Political Director of the Czech Foreign Ministry; he spoke to Radio Prague’s Alexis Rosenzweig shortly after the announcement was made.

Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg,  photo: CTK
“Yes, the deal is done. The meeting [Foreign Minister Karel] Schwarzenberg had with [U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice confirmed the conclusion of negotiations on the main agreement, and we immediately released the joint statement. We calculate that the signature of the agreement will be some time in early May.”

So this is the main agreement, not the SOFA agreement.

“Yes, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in charge of the main agreement while the SOFA is being negotiated under the leadership of the Defence Ministry, so it’s up to them to define the framework. We sincerely hope the other agreement will be concluded by the same time too, but I can’t really take any position on behalf of the Ministry of Defence on that.”

US PREsident George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice,  photo: CTK
How were the negotiations between Minister Schwarzenberg and Secretary Rice?

“It was a very friendly meeting that had no other substance than concluding the negotiations between the Czech Republic and the U.S. The two ministers thanked each other and congratulated each other and then we discussed the possible parameters of the signature of the agreement.”

Negotiations are still continuing between Washington and Warsaw on siting interceptor missiles in Poland that would work with the Czech radar tracking system, but Polish officials are holding out for greater aid in modernising the country’s armed forces.

Photo: CTK
There have been doubts as to whether a Czech radar base without the Polish interceptors is a viable prospect, but there was other good news for the Czechs - senior American officials say NATO leaders have agreed to fully endorse Washington’s missile defence plans, despite Russian objections. NATO’s approval raises the chances of the radar base plan being approved by the Czech parliament – a crucial prerequisite.

There are, however, many uncertainties ahead. Parliamentary approval in Prague is still not 100% guaranteed. The U.S. Congress, meanwhile, is still to reluctant to fund the deployment until the system is proven to work. And a Democratic President in Washington could put the whole system on the back burner. Much depends on the outcome of the U.S. elections.