U.S. makes official request for Czech support on Iraq

Czech anti-chemical unit in Kuwait, photo: www.army.cz

The Czech government announced on Wednesday evening that Washington had formally asked for support in any military action against Iraq. Following a three-hour meeting of the National Security Council, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said the cabinet would discuss the request in detail next week before presenting it to parliament for approval.

My colleague Rob Cameron joins me in the studio now - just what does the US want from the Czech Republic?

"Well basically two things. First of all, they want permission to station or transport U.S. troops on Czech territory, & also permission use Czech air space. Secondly, more importantly, they want the Czech Republic to change the mandate of its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons detection unit currently deployed in Kuwait. The changes would involve increasing the number of personnel from 250 to 350, and - crucially - allowing the unit to be redeployed from Kuwait to another country without seeking permission from that country's government - by "that country" we're talking of course about Iraq."

Right, so some serious decisions to be taken by Czech government.

"Yes, very serious indeed. The Czech government have already said they will participate in any U.S.-led military action against Iraq, but only on condition that the U.N. Security Council approves it first. This U.S. request puts a lot of pressure on the Czechs - they might be forced to make a decision before the Security Council addresses the issue. They have until January 20th to respond to the request, and such a major change of mandate must be approved by both the lower house and the Senate within 12 days. And don't forget we have a presidential election to get through next week as well."

An obvious question - will the Czech parliament agree to go to war alongside the U.S. if we there hasn't been a Security Council resolution by January 20th?

U.S. soldiers in Kuwait,  photo: CTK
"Well the Communists will be against it of course. Other parties will be divided. Some senior politicians have already said previous U.N. resolutions already justify military action - i.e. taking Washington's line. Others insist on a fresh Security Council resolution, an opinion shared by many politicians in Europe. So it's far from certain that parliament will say yes."

So why is the U.S. piling the pressure on the Czech Republic now?

"In some ways it's possible to interpret this as the U.S. deliberately using the Czechs to make life difficult for the U.S.'s allies in Europe. There are reports that the Czech Republic is only the second country after Britain that Washington has officially approached with a request for help. If this is true, and if the Czechs say yes without a UN resolution, then the Americans can say - look, the Czechs are with us, what about you lot?"