( dpa ) - Czech and US negotiators resumed bilateral talks Monday on one of the two key agreements on conditions under which the Czech Republic would allow the United States to place a missile- defence base on Czech soil, the Czech Defence Ministry said.
"It is likely that this round will not be the last one," ministry spokesman Jan Pejsek told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
The negotiating teams, led by the ministry's Director for Defence Policy Ivan Dvorak and the US State Department's Senior Advisor for Security Negotiations Jackson McDonald, are holding talks through Wednesday on the so-called status-of-forces agreement that defines rules under which the US forces would be allowed to operate in the Czech Republic.
Talks are also planned to continue Thursday and in early February on the main deployment treaty at the Czech Foreign Ministry, its spokeswoman Zuzana Opletalova said.
While a Pentagon spokesman expressed Tuesday hopes for the talks to conclude "within weeks," Czech officials have been cautious to set a deadline.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said earlier in January that the Czech government would "ideally" prefer to hand over the finished treaties for ratification by the parliament during April after the upcoming NATO summit in Bucharest. But he has repeated that Prague prefers quality to speed.
In early 2007, Washington asked Prague and Warsaw to host a tracking radar and 10 interceptor missiles for its defence system, which it says is being developed to prevent so-called rogue states such as Iran from proliferating long-range missiles.
The two formerly communist members of NATO and the European Union entered into separate, bilateral talks with the US.
Since Donald Tusk unseated Poland's former premier and missile- shield supporter Jaroslaw Kaczynski in October, his cabinet has uppped the negotiating stakes.
Poland now demands that the US provides it with a missile-defence system, such as Patriot missiles, against potential Russian attacks, and officials in Warsaw have hinted at wanting to make the final decision after the US presidential election.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg told public broadcaster Czech Television on Sunday that Prague does not demand extra security guarantees outside the protection already provided by its NATO membership.
And while Tusk said during a recent Prague visit that the two countries agreed to coordinate the pace of their talks, Schwarzenberg told the broadcaster that Prague would better hammer out the deal before George W Bush leaves office.
"We can now negotiate better conditions for the Czech Republic," the minister said. "I base it on a simple consideration that the outgoing administration wants to arrive at certain success."