- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 7, 2002

PRAGUE The Czech parliament this week is expected to approve an unprecedented plan for U.S. fighter jets to patrol the skies over Prague for terrorist threats during the upcoming NATO summit.

The plan was finalized by governments of both nations over the weekend and submitted to the Czech legislature ahead of the Nov. 21-22 summit, during which NATO plans to admit seven new members.

"The protection of the foreign airspace is an absolutely unprecedented matter which is connected with an enormous risk and immense responsibility," Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik told the Czech News Agency.

In a special session beginning today, lawmakers are expected to give their approval.

U.S. Air Force officials will command a clutch of F-16 and F-15 fighters in an operation officially called a CAP, for Combat Air Patrol. The Czech government will bear ultimate responsibility for any attack order.

The 15 jets will be supported by round-the-clock AWACS patrols, designed to detect radar from enemy aircraft.

The Czech air force will support the U.S. patrols in their aging, Russian-made MiG-21s.

The U.S. and Czech air forces have held joint exercises recently to prepare for the operation, which will include 250 U.S. military personnel.

No threats have been made, according to Czech Sen. Michal Zantovsky, who chairs the committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense and Security, but the fear is that a hijacked plane could try to crash into a strategic building or, perhaps, even into another plane carrying a head of state.

"It's a remote contingency for an event that probably won't occur," he said in a telephone interview.

President Bush, along with 45 other leaders from 19 NATO countries and 27 Partnership for Peace countries, are expected to descend on this East European capital for the two-day meeting.

They will be supported by a phalanx of staffers, and as many as 3,000 journalists are expected to cover the event.

The event will mark the first time such a meeting has been held in a former Warsaw Pact country. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999, a decade after communism collapsed across Eastern Europe.

The summit is expected to extend membership invitations to seven more countries: Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

The Partnership for Peace program was initiated during the Clinton administration to develop ties with former Soviet bloc countries as a potential prelude to NATO membership.

As many as 12,000 anti-globalization demonstrators are expected in Prague during the summit.

Two years ago demonstrators clashed with police at the annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Prague. Scores of protesters and police were injured.

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