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Prague (AFP) May 11, 2008
Neither the Czech Republic nor the United States have made provisions for permanent Russian inspectors at their joint anti-missile radar project, a junior government minister said Sunday.
Czech deputy defence minister Martin Bartak told Czech public television that while an agreement between Prague and Washington mentions inspections, is says nothing about a permanent presence of inspectors from Russia or elsewhere.
"Apart from Czechs and Americans, we do not at all count on anyone else having a permanent presence at the base," he added.
The United States had offered Russian officials access to the Czech sites and to missile interceptors in Poland while also form part of the missile shield programe that now is in development.
But the idea of a permanent Russian presence in the Czech Republic has provoked fierce criticism from Czech politicians.
The Czech site is part of an anti-missile programme that the United States is developing in the face of Russian hostility.
Washington says it is to protect against attacks from countries it considers rogue states such as Iran.
But Moscow sees it as a threat to its own national security and has threatened to point its missiles at the Czech Republic and Poland, the eastern European countries hosting interceptor missiles as part of the system.
Memories are still fresh of the Soviet-era occupation, particularly the Soviet led intervention that ended the reformist Prague Spring in 1968 and restored orthodox Communist rule.
Czech politicians have said that only direct talks between Prague and Moscow can pave the way for Russian observers to visit the radar station.
Czech and US politicians are still negotiating the terms under which US forces will be based here. Tax issues surrounding the base are one of the last sticking points.
That deal could be wrapped up by the end of this month, paving the way for it and a previously agreed main diplomatic accord to be signed in June, Bartak said Sunday.
But Czech lawmakers would then have to approve the deal -- and Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek is by no means certain of winning a majority for the controversial base.
A public opinion poll by the Median agency released by Czech Television on Sunday showed 65 percent against the radar, 18 percent for and 17 percent undecided.
The poll is in line with a series of previous surveys showing around two-thirds of Czechs opposed to the foreign base on their soil.
earlier related report
The Bush administration had requested $712 million for the program, but the Strategic Forces Subcommittee chaired by Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., a close ally of her fellow California liberal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, only approved $480 million.
The vote came a week after the White House had won a significant Capitol Hill victory on the issue when the Armed Services Committee of the Senate fully approved the same funding request.
Wednesday's subcommittee vote does not mean that President Bush will not get the funding he wants on the issue.
The funds could be restored at the reconciliation conference between the House and Senate versions of the legislation that will produce the final version of the bill that President Bush will eventually sign into law.
However, the funding remains a sensitive point for the U.S. government. Negotiations with the Czech Republic under its current, pro-American Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek to build an advanced radar-tracking station on Czech territory have gone well and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to sign the necessary agreements to move ahead with construction in Prague next month.
But north of the Czech Republic, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has put restoring good relations with Russia at the top of his diplomatic agenda.
Tusk and his senior government officials have proven less than enthusiastic about finally signing a similar agreement to allow the main base housing 10 Ground-based Mid-course Interceptors to be built in his country to protect the United States and Western Europe against the threat of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could be fired from Iran or North Korea.
The Polish foreign minister this week publicly said he would be happy if the United States could find another country in which to deploy the GBIs, and the Polish government and Parliament are holding out for more financial support from the United States to comprehensively upgrade their air defense system.
In this climate, if the Democrat-controlled 110th Congress does eventually decide to slash funding for the BMD bases, they will embolden opponents of the program in Warsaw, including those in the Tusk government.
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