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Czechs Sign Anti-Missile Defense

The United States and the Czech Republic have signed a landmark agreement that will allow the construction and operation of sophisticated tracking radar on Czech soil as part of a U.S. European-based ballistic missile defense system.

“It is an agreement for friends and allies,” said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, “who face a common threat in the twenty-first century and wish to address it through the application of the best defensive technologies we can bring to bear.”

The missile defense system’s radar component is to be located south of Prague and must still be approved by the Czech legislature, where it faces opposition from members of the Communist party and others who are not part of the coalition government. In addition, the U.S. hopes to deploy ten interceptor missiles in Poland. The goal is to have the sites in operation by 2012.

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said a missile defense system is in his country’s interest. “The first task of the foreign policy of any country is to ensure security of the country. And this agreement,” said Mr. Schwarzenberg, “not only increases the security of the Czech Republic, but also of Europe and of the whole Euro-Atlantic area.”

Russia continues to voice strong objections to building a ballistic missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Secretary of State Rice sought to assuage Russian concerns:

“Missile defenses today,” she said, “are only aimed at those who would threaten us. ... We’ve made the point to our Russian colleagues that we all face the threat from states like Iran that continue to pursue missiles of ever-longer range, and we must be in a position to respond.”

Iran’s multiple -- according to Iranian media, nine -- ballistic missile and rocket launches on July 9, as part of its Great Prophet military exercise, clearly underscores once again the threat from Iran.

By offering transparency and confidence-building measures, such as participation in the development of a joint regional missile defense architecture for defending not only Europe and the United States, but also Russia, the United States is attempting to assure Russia that the U.S. missile defense system planned for Europe is limited in capability. It is solely defensive and not directed at Russia.

“This missile defense agreement is significant as a building block,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, “not just for the security of the United States and of the Czech Republic, but for the security of NATO and ultimately, for the security of the international community as a whole because we do face important threats.”