Czechs agree to host part of US missile defence shield


CZECH REPUBLIC / US:THE CZECH Republic signed a deal with the United States yesterday to allow it to build part of a missile defence shield near Prague, despite doubts about its effectiveness, fierce Russian objections and uncertainty over where the rest of the system will be located.

US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said the Czech radar base would track long-range rockets fired by "rogue states" such as Iran, but admitted that Poland was yet to accept a proposal to host a missile base that would shoot down the enemy rockets in mid-flight.

"We face with the Iranians, and so do our allies and friends, a growing missile threat that is getting ever longer and ever deeper, and where the Iranian appetite for nuclear technology . . . is still unchecked," Dr Rice said alongside Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg.

Washington hopes the long-range radar will be operational by 2013, and linked to a base in neighbouring Poland that will house 10 interceptor rockets.

Dr Rice wanted to visit Warsaw this week to clinch a deal on the base, but talks have bogged down over Poland's demand for military hardware to defend itself from attack, amid threats from Russia to train its own missiles on the planned US facility.

Moscow immediately condemned the deal on the Czech radar, which it says will be able to monitor activity deep inside Russian airspace.

"A step has been taken . . . which complicates security problems on a global scale," a senior Russian foreign ministry official told the Interfax news agency.

The proposed €2.2 billion system still faces a number of hurdles, however.

As well as Poland's hard bargaining over the interceptor base, the technology involved is still being developed and the fractious Czech parliament may not ratify the deal amid strong public opposition to the project.

Furthermore, it is not certain that the next US president will back the system, which critics say would counter a non-existent danger - that of long-range missile attack by Iran.