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BMD Focus: Czechs back BMD plan -- Part 1

By
MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst

WASHINGTON, April 30 (UPI) -- The Czech government's decision to approve the building of a U.S. ballistic missile defense radar base on its territory is an important strategic victory for the Bush administration.

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek told reporters in Prague Monday that the Czech Republic and the United States would formally sign both the necessary treaties to build the strategically crucial base on Czech territory in early June.

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The original plan was for U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to sign the key treaty during her visit to Prague next week but Rice had to change her timetable and will now only be in the picturesque Czech capital for half a day, so the signing has been postponed till June, Topolanek said.

"We have agreed in the end that it will be ideal to sign both treaties together. If everything turned out well... both treaties would be signed in the first decade (first 10 days of June)," Topolanek said according to a report carried by the Czech news agency CTK.

The Americans and the Czechs also want to conclude work on their SOFA treaty which will regulate the conditions under which the U.S. troops operating the base will remain on Czech territory, CTK said.

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The issues still to be resolved on the SOFA agreement are minor ones. CTK said agreement still has to be reached on whether Czech companies producing goods and services for the U.S. radar base will have to pay their own government Value Added Tax or not.

But the base is not a done deal yet. Topolanek's government won a new lease of life by a hairsbreadth Wednesday when it survived a no-confidence vote in the Czech parliament by only three votes. Some 101 lawmakers supported the government coalition and 98 members of parliament voted against it.

The main opposition left-of-center Social Democrats fiercely oppose the base and Russia is using all its massive diplomatic and economic influence in the Czech Republic to oppose the base deal. Former Prime Minister and still Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek is spearheading the political opposition to the agreement and opinion polls show around 70 percent of Czechs agreeing with him on the issue.

The Social Democrats and their allies, the Czech Communist Party -- KSCM -- want to hold a referendum on the issue.

The proposed base would be constructed in the Brdy military district, 54 miles southwest of Prague to serve as the directing guiding system to allow 10 Ground-based Mid-course Interceptors deployed in neighboring Poland to intercept and destroy any intercontinental ballistic missiles that Iran or other so-called rogue states may in the future fire at the United States or Western Europe.

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Topolanek's ruling ODS party continues to strongly back the base plan, but their Green coalition partners, the SZ don't want it, and even the Christian Democrats -- KDU-CSL -- the third party in the ruling coalition, are wobbly on the issue, CTK said.

Topolanek's announcement was the second major victory U.S. President George W. Bush has won on the Euro-BMD base issue within the past month. At the beginning of April, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Bucharest, Romania backed the policy too. Bush there won approval for the project from major Western European leaders, especially Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain.

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Next: Bush on a BMD roll

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