( LatWp )- President Bush urged the Czech Republic to support a U.S. missile defense system to be deployed here and in Poland, and assured Russia that it had nothing to fear from the weaponry.
The issue, reminiscent of Cold War tensions, is coloring the start of the president's weeklong European tour and, moreover, U.S.-Russia relations. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, who will meet with Bush on Thursday during the Group of Eight summit in Germany, has strenuously objected to the missile plan.
``It is a purely defensive measure, aimed not at Russia but at true threats,'' Bush said.
He argued that radar, which would be deployed in the Czech Republic, and missile interceptors, which would be placed in Poland, were intended to protect Europe and the United States from long-range missiles launched by Iran or other ``rogue'' states. Putin says the system is a threat to Russia.
Previewing the case he will make to Putin, both in Germany and at a longer set of meetings scheduled for July 1- 2 in Kennebunkport, Maine, Bush said: ``My message will be `Vladimir . . . you shouldn't fear a missile defense system. Why don't you cooperate with us on a missile defense system?' ''
Bush spoke after meeting with Czech President Vaclav Klaus and Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek at the 1,100-year-old Prague Castle.
Klaus praised Bush for promising to ``make a maximum effort to explain'' the missile defense plan to Russia and Putin.
He said that the matter was ``very sensitive'' to the Czech people, for whom Cold War memories remain strong. For four decades they were trapped in the antagonism between Moscow and Washington, their lives controlled largely by Kremlin-imposed rule.
``The Cold War is over,'' Bush said. ``It ended. The people of the Czech Republic don't have to choose between being a friend to the United States and a friend with Russia. You can be both.''