Czech Republic puts off decision on U.S. radar

The Czech Republic won't make a decision on deploying U.S. missile shield elements before the end of the year, according to the First Deputy Defence Minister, Martin Bartak. On Tuesday he met the Russian Chief-of-Staff ,Yury Baluyevsky, in Moscow.

A big mistake – that's how Russia is describing the possibility that the Czech Republic could host elements of a U.S. missile defence shield on its soil. Russia’s opposition to the plans was reiterated by General Baluyevsky to Czech Deputy Defence Minister Bartak.

But Baluyevsky’s main request was for the Czech Republic to wait and review the missile defence plans until after the 2008 U.S. presidential election, hoping the new administration might have a different point of view about installing elements of the missile defence in both the Czech Republic and Poland.

“It has to do with the situation inside the U.S. It is the current U.S. administration of President George Bush, who advocates the creation of the third missile defence site in Europe, not Russia. Let us wait till the election. Maybe the next administration will have a different view regarding the threat that comes from Iran,” General Baluyevsky stated.

Russia has strongly opposed the U.S. plans since they were announced.

Opposition has also been expressed on the streets of Prague and Warsaw where citizens against the plan have come out to protest. But Martin Bartak says his people’s concerns will be considered when Parliament makes the decision.

“Of course, the decision has to be made by the parliament and then approved by the president. We don’t expect to have a referendum on this issue. This is a matter of national and international security, and we don’t hold referendums on such matters. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we disregard public opinion,” Mr Bartak commented.

The U.S. has attempted many times to convince Russians the system is not meant as a defence against them, but against so-called ‘rogue nations’ such as Iran and North Korea. President Putin has suggested an alternative plan and offered the U.S. use of a rented radar base in Azerbaijan, and proposed talks on a joint system in Southern Russia. But the U.S. has made it clear that even if these proposals were to be adopted, it still plans to go through with the deployment close to Russia’s borders in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The big question now seems to be – will the Czech Republic wait for America to elect a new president before making a final decision?

Meanwhile, in early September Russia, the United States and Azerbaijan are due to hold talks on joint use of Russian-operated radar station in Gabala.

That's according to a statement made by Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday.

Russia has suggested that the United States make joint use of the Gabala radar station as a part of an anti-missile shield, but Washington hasn't agreed to the proposal yet.