- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Not afraid of Russia

The new Czech foreign minister yesterday said his country is not worried about Russian objections to a U.S. missile-defense system proposed for a site about 60 miles west of the capital, Prague.

The Czechs have broader concerns, including domestic public opinion and divisions within NATO over the system that would install radar in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor rockets in Poland to protect both the United States and southern Europe from missile attacks from nations like Iran.

“We hope we can reach an agreement with the United States,” Karel Schwarzenberg told Embassy Row in a telephone interview before he departed for his Washington visit, which begins today.

Mr. Schwarzenberg said the government must get approval from the Czech parliament before the system could be installed.

“We have critical voices in Europe and from our neighbor states,” he said, explaining that some allies think the system should be under NATO, instead of U.S. control.

Some Czechs living near the proposed site are also nervous, according to Czech news reports.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has denounced the missile-defense system, accusing the United States of inciting a new Cold War.

Mr. Schwarzenberg agreed with analysts who have suggested that Russia’s motives are really designed to exert power over nations like Poland and the Czech Republic that were under Soviet domination in the old Warsaw Pact.

“Russia is a great country, but we are not afraid of Russia,” he said.

Mr. Schwarzenberg also plans to urge Bush administration officials to endorse Czech membership in the so-called “visa-waiver program,” under which citizens of certain countries can travel to the United States without applying for visas. New Czech passports meet the technical qualifications for the program.

On his first visit to Washington since becoming foreign minister in January, Mr. Schwarzenberg will meet National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff today and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez tomorrow.

The foreign minister yesterday conceded to being a little tired. He has just returned from a visit to Afghanistan, where he met with President Hamid Karzai and dedicated a new Czech Embassy and hospital near the Kabul airport. His flight for Washington was due to leave at midnight and arrive here at 4 a.m. today.

“If you see someone walking around Washington with very sleepy eyes,” he said, “it will be me.”

Embassies shocked

The massacre at Virginia Tech deeply shocked diplomats at two embassies in Washington when they learned that one of the victims of the deranged gunman was a Romanian-born engineering professor who survived the Holocaust and emigrated to Israel before settling in the bucolic college town of Blacksburg, Va.

Diplomats at the Romanian and Israeli embassies also praised Liviu Librescu, who was 76, because he died a hero, as he blocked the door to his classroom and prevented Cho Seung-hui from killing his students while they scrambled out of windows. He was killed Monday on Israel’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“We are very shocked,” said Daniela Gitman, charge d’affaires at the Romanian Embassy. “He had a lot of good friends in Romania and maintained contacts with the engineering elite. He was a hero.”

She said Romanian President Traian Basescu has decided to award Mr. Librescu with the country’s highest honor, the Romanian Star.

Israeli Ambassador Sallai Meridor dispatched a senior diplomat to Blacksburg to help the family.

“The people of Israel grieve with all who have been touched by this horrible tragedy and pray for the speedy and complete recovery of the wounded and for the families of those who lost their loved ones,” he said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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