US, Czechs agree on missile shield

(dpa) - The United States and the Czech Republic agreed Thursday to site elements of a US anti-ballistic-missile system on Czech soil, the two sides confirmed in a joint statement.

"The United States and the Czech Republic are pleased to announce the completion of negotiations on a missile-defence agreement. We plan to sign the agreement in the near future," the statement said.

"This legally-binding agreement calls for the stationing of a US radar in the Czech Republic to track ballistic missiles. The radar will be linked to other US missile defence facilities in Europe and the US," the statement said.

The agreement could be signed in the first week to 10 days of May, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg told journalists after meeting his US counterpart, Condoleezza Rice, on the fringes of a major NATO summit in Bucharest.

Crucially for Czech support of the programme, the statement also stressed the deal's relationship with NATO systems, saying that it would make a "substantial contribution to NATO's collective capability to counter existing and future threats."

At the same time, a statement issued by all 26 NATO leaders at the summit stressed that the radar will be part of any future NATO missile defence system, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said.

The decision could well provoke an angry response from Russia, which has repeatedly said that it sees the planned missile shield as a threat to its own security and deterrent capability.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to meet NATO's leaders on Friday, the last day of the summit.

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