czech republic map .
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek announced Saturday that the United States has said it would like the Czech Republic to host components of its global missile defense system.
Topolanek said the US wants to build a radar base in the country as part of the system. Washington has been negotiating with Poland and the Czech Republic, both former communist states that now belong to NATO, as it explores where to set up a missile defense site in Eastern Europe.
Such a site would be the first of its kind outside US territory, and American officials say it could also defend Europe against any intercontinental-range missiles developed by states such as Iran and North Korea.
Russia has protested Washington's plans, saying it would upset the strategic balance in Europe and could lead to a new arms race.
"The government is ready to seriously consider the United States' request," Topolanek said, adding that a committee would be set up in the next week to discuss the issue. He said it could take several months before a decision is taken on whether to host the radar system.
Russia's former Security Council chief Andrei Kokoshin, who heads Russian parliament's committee for ties with ex-Soviet nations, warned that a possible Czech approval of the plan "will not pass without consequences."
Lawmakers dealing with security and defense issues "will recommend taking retaliatory measures" that would "help maintain strategic stability and ensure the national security of Russia and our friends and allies," Kokoshin was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.
Under the offer, only the radar part of the system would be hosted in the Czech Republic, Topolanek said. If the plan is approved, some 200 specialists would be deployed and the base would become operational in 2011.
Topolanek has repeatedly supported the US plan.
"We are convinced that a possible deployment of the radar station on our territory is in our interest," he said Saturday. "It will increase security of the Czech Republic and Europe."
The offer was made on Friday, minutes after Topolanek's coalition government won a confidence vote in parliament with help from opposition defectors, ending seven months of political deadlock.
But with the prime minister's center-right coalition enjoying the support of only half of parliament's 200 lawmakers, he must rely on defectors from opposition parties to govern.
Opposition parties have objected to the Czech Republic hosting the missile defense system, so winning approval for the proposal could be difficult.
The major opposition Social Democratic Party of former Premier Jiri Paroubek wants a national referendum to be called on the issue, but Topolanek opposes the idea.
"There's no need for a referendum," he said Saturday.
An opinion poll released earlier this month indicated two thirds of Czechs were against a missile interceptor site on Czech territory, but about some 60 percent would agree with just a radar.
The poll by the private Factum Invenio agency was commission by the Foreign Ministry. The agency polled 961 people in the second part of December. No margin of error was given, but it usually stands at plus or minus 3 percentage points in similar polls. Results were released in January.
The US request for the Czech Republic to only host the radar site could indicate that Washington was considering setting up the missile interceptor part of the defense system in Poland. Czech authorities refused to comment on what Poland's role might be in the plan. Topolanek said only that he would discuss the issue with his Polish counterpart Jaroslaw Kaczynski.