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The missile-defense plan of the Obama administration shifts emphasis from long-range to short-range missiles.
February 10, 2010

Czechs in talks to host missile command center

High-level meetings under way as part of Obama administration plans, official says

A high-level defense policy expert with ties to Washington, D.C. said the Czech Republic is in discussions with the Obama administration to host a command center for the United States’ altered missile-defense plan.

The official, who requested anonymity because discussions are ongoing, said, “The Czech Republic is not out of the picture.”

“There are strategic dialogues going on between the United States and the Czech Republic,” said Jiří Beneš, a Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman. “No concrete proposal has been mentioned yet.”

In recent days, the Obama administration’s altered missile-defense plans have begun to take shape as Romanian President Traian Basescu announced Feb. 4 that his country will host missiles. In September 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama scrapped the Bush administration’s plan that called for interceptor missiles based in Poland and a radar base in Brdy, southwest of Prague.

A scaled-back successor plan called for Mediterranean Sea-based radars to monitor potential projectiles launched by Iran, and shorter-range missiles to be deployed in an undisclosed southeast European country, which now appears to be Romania. Among Obama’s rationale for changing course was the untested nature of technologies proposed by the Bush administration. The Obama administration argues that the short-range missiles are already proven technology.

On Feb. 1, a U.S. test of the missile-defense system failed in the South Pacific, with the radar element to blame. The test was meant to mimic a missile launched from Iran and included a missile launched from Kwajalein on the Marshall Islands, and an interceptor from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Both of those technologies proved effective.

“The Sea-Based X-band radar did not perform as expected,” the Missile Defense Agency said on its Web site. Officials will investigate the cause, the agency added.

This was the first-ever simulation of a long-range Iranian attack.

“If Obama needed more evidence to back his shift, the failed test gives it to him,” said Tomáš Valášek, director of foreign policy and defense with the London-based Centre for European Reform.

All these developments come among reports that Iran continues to move forward with its own weapons programs. The Pentagon’s Ballistic Missile Defense Review said Feb. 8 that Tehran has developed ballistic missiles capable of striking targets from the Middle East to Eastern Europe. On Feb. 9, Iran moved forward with processing higher-purity uranium that could be used for a weapons program.

The Czech Republic has appeared to be sidelined from missile-defense developments in recent weeks, especially as Poland announced Jan. 21 it will receive American Patriot missiles and deploy them near the border with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

“That was a payback for withdrawing the missile-defense plans,” Valášek said.

But the possibility of a command center based in the Czech Republic is in its “early stages,” the defense policy official said. Prime Minister Jan Fischer is slated to visit Washington D.C. as he returns from attending the Winter Olympics’ Opening Ceremonies in Vancouver.

Russia, which was a staunch critic of the Bush administration policy, has taken a softer stance toward the Obama administration’s plans, though there have been mixed signals as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in December that a missile defense system could upset the post-Cold War balance of power.

“Romania is still not in the same geopolitical position as the Czech Republic or Poland,” said Nikola Hýnek, a fellow with the Prague Institute of International Relations.

“The biggest thing for the Russians is that this is not going to be the same type of installation as the Bush plan. The Obama administration has kept Russia involved in back-channel discussions.”

Russia has been slow to respond to the announcement that missiles will be deployed in Romania, and Basescu targeted Moscow when making his announcement Feb. 4.

“Romania will not host a system directed against Russia, but against other threats,” he said.

Aleksandr A. Khramchikhin, assistant director of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis in Moscow, told the Web site Gzt.ru that the Kremlin has long suggested Bulgaria or Romania as alternative missile-defense sites.

– Klára Jiřičná contributed to this report.

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