US missile defence chief in Prague to drum up support for radar base

Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, photo: CTK

The head of the U.S. Missile Defence Agency Lieutenant General Henry Obering paid a visit to Prague on Monday to drum up support for a plan to place an American radar station on Czech territory. The U.S. has already made a formal request to the Czechs for them to host the facility as part of its missile defence shield. Now the tortuous process of discussing technical details and winning crucial political approval is underway.

Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, photo: CTK
Lt. Gen. Obering had a busy day on Monday, meeting a host of senior Czech officials and addressing MPs and senators in parliament. Accompanied by the U.S. ambassador, he addressed journalists midway through his day of talks, and reiterated American concerns that both the United States and Europe were at risk from a potential Iranian missile attack. Lt. Gen. Obering said missile defence would also work to counter nuclear proliferation.

"Frankly, in spite of all our arms control measures and everything that we've done in the past, these weapons have continued to proliferate, these ballistic missiles. I believe the reason for that is they are very valuable to these countries, because they know that historically there has not been a deployed defence against them. If we join together, the U.S., NATO and even Russia, in deploying missile defences, I believe it will greatly devalue these weapons and you will see a great reduction in their proliferation and therefore increase the security for all of us."

Jiri Paroubek
It's a message which despite Lt. Gen. Obering's upbeat tone is not getting through to some Czech politicians, particularly on the left. The head of the missile defence agency held talks with Jiri Paroubek, leader of the opposition Social Democrats, whose support could be crucial if stationing the radar station is to be approved by parliament. A Social Democrat was among a delegation of Czech MPs to visit a similar radar facility on the Marshall Islands, a visit that Lt. Gen. Obering described as a success.

"I think the visit of the parliamentarians to the Marshall Islands to actually look at the radar was very positive. I think there were some good impressions from the folks that visited there when they came back. In my discussions with Mr Paroubek this morning he stated that his position had not changed. However, he also stated that he had gained more information that he thought was very useful and very positive. I think that that's worth the discussion to continue, because we welcome the debate and we welcome the opportunity to exchange information."

That debate will certainly continue in the months to come, but opponents of the system were undoubtedly heartened by the results of an opinion poll released on Tuesday morning. The poll, carried out by the CVVM agency, suggested that public support for the radar base is plummeting - just 25 percent said they were in favour of the plan, compared to 68 percent against. Political parties - especially on the left - will have a tough time voting for a system their constituents simply do not want. Pressed by reporters, Lt. Gen. Obering said if the Czech parliament fails to give the plan its seal of approval, the U.S. would be forced to look elsewhere.

"We will never go where we are not approved to go, obviously. If that is the case, there are other alternatives that we have looked at and explored. They're not the ideal, the Czech Republic is the ideal, but there are other options and we would have to exercise those."