- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 20, 2007

PRAGUE — The United States has asked the Czech Republic to host a radar base that would be part of a global missile-defense system, the prime minister announced yesterday, drawing a warning from Russia of retaliatory actions.

U.S. officials contend the system could defend Europe against intercontinental missiles fired by states such as Iran and North Korea, but the Kremlin warned that the military balance in Europe could be at stake and said the development risked a new arms race.

Independent defense analysts have said the ground-based missile-defense system is still years from being able to protect against long-range missile attacks.

Washington declined comment on Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek’s statement, but the United States has been negotiating with Poland and the Czech Republic, both former communist states now in NATO, as it explores setting up missile-defense sites in Eastern Europe.

The U.S. has missile interceptor bases in Alaska and California. It activated a powerful X-band radar site in northern Japan as part of the system last September, but so far has no anti-missile weapons based outside U.S. territory.

The U.S. request that the Czech Republic host only an X-band radar facility could indicate Washington is considering putting launchers for anti-missile missiles in Poland.

Czech authorities refused to comment on Poland’s possible role. Mr. Topolanek said only that he would discuss the issue with his Polish counterpart, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

Mr. Topolanek said his government would name a committee to consider the U.S. request and a decision could take several months.

Czech opposition parties have spoken against the defense system, and the prime minister’s governing coalition does not have enough votes in parliament to pass measures on its own.

In Moscow, Andrei Kokoshin, the former Russian Security Council chief who now heads parliament’s committee for ties with former Soviet bloc nations, warned that Czech approval of the plan would “not pass without consequences.”

Russian lawmakers dealing with security issues “will recommend taking retaliatory measures” that would “help maintain strategic stability and ensure the national security of Russia and our friends and allies,” Mr. Kokoshin was quoted as telling the Interfax news agency.

State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said he could not confirm that the Czechs had been asked to host the radar site and Poland the missile interceptors. He said that negotiations were under way.

“Depending on the result of the discussions, the U.S. will seek to field a limited number of ground-based missile-defense silo launchers, with their associated interceptors, similar to those currently fielded at Fort Greely, Alaska, and to deploy an X-band radar for midcourse tracking and discrimination of ballistic-missile threats out of the Middle East,” he said.

Mr. Vasquez would not specify which countries in the Middle East are considered a threat, but U.S. officials and others worry about Iran’s development of long-range missiles that can reach Europe.

The missile-defense system is intended to begin tracking missiles early during their boost phase and then guide intercepter missiles that would destroy the threatening missiles in flight.

So far, the U.S. military has deployed a small number of interceptor missiles — at least 11 at Fort Greely and two at Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central California coast.

Mr. Topolanek said that if the Czech Republic approves the U.S. request, some 200 American specialists would be deployed here and the base would become operational in 2011.

“We are convinced that a possible deployment of the radar station on our territory is in our interest,” he said. “It will increase security of the Czech Republic and Europe.”

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