Wednesday, February 27, 2008

PRAGUE — Leading opponents of the planned missile defense, speaking prior to today’s White House meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, said they may support the effort if it is under control of NATO and not the Pentagon.

“We are not against missile defense as a concept but we would rather like to see it debated and carried out under the alliance,” said Jan Hamacek, a member of the opposition Social Democratic Party, who chairs the foreign affairs committee in parliament.

“What’s missing here is a substantial debate on the alliance level to what extent the threats we are talking about are real, and to what extent a global, layered, missile defense system is the answer to the threats that we are facing.”

Support for NATO leadership also came from the Green Party, a junior member of the governing coalition.

“NATO is the perfect platform for discussing collective security,” Ondrej Liska, the Greens’ vice-chairman for foreign affairs said in an interview.

Mr. Topolanek dismissed the issue as being of limited importance before leaving for Washington yesterday.

“If the missile defense were to be the only purpose of my trip to the United States, I would not have gone to the United States for that purpose,” he told The Washington Times. “It could have been arranged by the offices. So it is not so crucial for me.”

Public opinion polls show that about 70 percent of Czech voters oppose the planned missile defense, which would put a tracking site in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland.

The Czech government hired public relations executive Tomas Klvana to work exclusively on the missile defense issue.

He says he expects the dual treaties to be concluded in the coming weeks — once negotiators resolve such prickly issues as who will have legal authority over U.S. soldiers stationed at the base and who will take care of security surrounding the site.

But getting the treaties ratified could prove to be a bigger obstacle than the prolonged negotiations, which have dragged on for more than a year.

Even though Topolanek presides over a governing coalition that has a slim majority in parliament, the ratification is in doubt because of Green Party opposition.

“We reject any bilateral agreement between the United States and the Czech Republic,” Mr. Liska said.

“I’m sorry but this is not driven by (any) threat. This is driven by the interests of a very concrete segment of business and political interest groups — military contractors and hard-line Republicans,” he said.

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