Czechs withdraw from U.S. missile plan

The Czech Republic is withdrawing from U.S. missile defence plans out of frustration at its diminished role, the Czech defence minister told The Associated Press Wednesday.

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — The Czech Republic is withdrawing from U.S. missile defence plans out of frustration at its diminished role, the Czech defence minister told The Associated Press Wednesday.

The Bush administration first proposed stationing 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and an advanced radar in the Czech Republic, saying the system was aimed at blunting future missile threats from Iran. But Russia angrily objected and warned that it would station its own missiles close to Poland if the plan went through.

In September 2009, the Obama administration shelved that plan and offered a new, reconfigured phased program with an undefined role for the Czechs. In November 2009, the Czech Republic was offered the possibility of hosting a separate early warning system that would gather and analyze information from satellites to detect missiles aimed at NATO territory.

Defence Minister Alexander Vondra told the AP that the Czech Republic wanted to participate but “definitely not in this way.”

“They gave us an offer and we assessed that,” Vondra said. “I would say we’ve solved it in an elegant way.”

Vondra spoke Wednesday after meeting U.S. Deputy Defence Secretary William Lynn.

The two men said both sides will be looking at possibilities of Czech participation in the future.

“We can return to it at some point but it’s premature at the moment,” Vondra said. “We have certain ideas but it’s too early to speak about them.”

Vondra and Lynn told reporters during an earlier news conference that the official reason for the Czech withdrawal was that the centre was no longer needed after a bigger role for NATO in the new system was endorsed at a summit in Lisbon last year.

“The offer that we made has been overtaken by events,” Lynn said. “The Lisbon summit has changed the nature of the missile defence framework that we’re operating in. The offer, while I think an interesting one, a good one, no longer fits either the missile defence framework or Czech needs.”

But Vondra called it “a consolation prize” at a meeting of NATO defence ministers last week in Brussels.

“Our ideas about the future co-operation are more colorful than just a room or two with some screens there,” Vondra said.

“Now even this has been withdrawn for the simple reason that Washington has decided to place it on the level of NATO, rather than on the basis of bilateral agreements, such as those with Poland and the Czech Republic,” Boston University international relations professor Igor Lukes said.

The new U.S. administration’s plan calls for placing land- and sea-based radars and interceptors in several European locations, including Romania and Poland, over the next decade and upgrading them over time. As the first part of the plan, the United States in March deployed to the Mediterranean the USS Monterey, a ship equipped to detect and shoot down missiles.

“I’m not surprised by the decision,” said Jan Vidim, a lawmaker in the lower house of the Czech Parliament. “The United States has been and will be our crucial strategic partner but the current administration doesn’t take the Czech Republic seriously.”

Vidim’s remarks reflected concern by many in Central and Eastern Europe that the U.S. interest in resetting ties with Moscow could come at their expense.

Others were celebrating.

“That’s wonderful news,” said Eva Novotna, who helped organized numerous protests against Czech involvement. “I’m really pleased to hear that.”

Tomas Karasek, an analyst at Prague’s Association for International Affairs, said the decision illustrates the fact that “after Bush, who paid enormous attention to Poland and the Czech Republic, Obama has different priorities.”

“It definitely won’t improve the Czech-U.S. relations but it will hardly harm them seriously,” Karasek said. “It was the decision not to build the radar here that had a very negative impact on the relations.”