- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2007

PRAGUE — Opposition to President Bush’s missile-defense plan is growing in the Czech Republic, with critics in the nation’s evenly divided parliament campaigning against the effort ahead of Mr. Bush’s arrival yesterday.

The plan, which would station a radar base in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in neighboring Poland, is expected to dominate a brief summit this morning with Mr. Bush, President Vaclav Klaus and Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek.

“The situation … is a fiasco of public diplomacy of the United States government [and] the Czech government, which has not been able [until] now to answer the concerns and questions of people,” said Ondrej Liska, a lawmaker of the Green Party.

Because opposition parties already hold half the seats in parliament, approval of the U.S. base was always iffy. But with the Greens one of three parties in Mr. Topolanek’s fragile center-right government, opposition from Mr. Liska and others makes passage even more problematic.

“Missile defense makes sense strategically; it makes sense geopolitically,” said government spokesman Tomas Klvana.

“Our strategic goal is to use this American missile defense as a complement to the NATO missile-defense structure. And in the future, [to] have a common architect that protects Europe,” he said.

The U.S. says the missile defense would protect against rockets launched by Iran, but Russian President Vladimir Putin says it is aimed at Russia and this week threatened to aim nuclear missiles at Western European capitals if the system is built.

U.S. officials say Mr. Putin’s Cold War rhetoric is unlikely to halt the project. But Czech opposition has gone largely unnoticed in the Western press.

In recent weeks, nearly a dozen Czech villages surrounding the proposed radar base have held nonbinding referendums, all voting overwhelmingly against the U.S. plan.

Earlier this year, public opinion was a little more than 50 percent against the radar base here, but many Czechs say the issue was thrust upon them with little explanation. The latest polls show opposition at well over 60 percent.

“From the very birth of this idea, the American side tried to keep a low profile of this issue,” said Mr. Liska, who chairs the parliamentary committee for European affairs.

“But once you have something bigger than what you pretend, and you try to keep a low profile, it will flip, and it will become a much bigger issue than you have ever expected. And this is what happened,” he said.

Many in the Green Party want a full transfer of U.S. control of the project to NATO command, eliminating all bilateral treaties, as the price of their support. That, they say, would ensure a broader, European discussion about the threats and potential countermeasures.

Those views are echoed by the leading opposition party, the Social Democrats.

“I believe one of the side effects of the approach that’s perceived by the U.S. administration is the division of Europe into the Old and New Europe, as [former Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld once said. And this I obviously see as a threat to the political integration of Europe,” said Jan Hamacek, who chairs parliament’s International Affairs Committee for the Social Democrats.

“I believe in further integration and such [bilateral treaties] would be an obstacle,” he said.

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