President tells BBC he expects US radar will eventually be stationed on Czech soil

13-11-2007

In an interview for BBC television, Czech President Vaclav Klaus has said that he expects a radar base proposed by the US will one day be a reality on Czech territory, although he stressed it would not be “tomorrow” or in the nearest future. Mr Klaus was asked about missile defense on the BBC’s HardTalk programme: while reluctant to speculate over the necessity of a missile shield regarding rogue states, the president did indicate Prague’s support for the US was a show of solidarity in keeping with transatlantic relations.

Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTKVaclav Klaus, photo: CTK Polls have repeatedly shown that the idea of a US radar base stationed in the Czech Republic is not popular among a many Czechs; but, so far, the idea has gotten tentative backing from both the country’s government as well as its president. The former is in negotiations on the issue, the latter has signalled support in an interview for BBC television. On the BBC, President Klaus told HardTalk host Stephen Sackur he thought the radar would eventually be stationed in the country, although he stressed that many technical and legislative issues needed to be resolved first. Questioned on the radar, Mr Klaus said “I think it will be there”. But he added “not tomorrow” and “not the day after”. Political analyst Jiri Pehe says the president’s words need to be seen in a domestic light, against the backdrop of upcoming presidential elections. In those Mr Klaus will need to rely on votes from the Civic Democrats, who favour the radar project.

“Mr Klaus’ statement needs to be seen in the light of domestic politics. Mr Klaus is running for re-election and I think that he wants to reassure his own party, the Civic Democratic Party which supports the radar, that he is in favour. On the other hand, his statement should not be misread because when he says that eventually the radar will be placed in the Czech Republic but what that ‘eventually’ means is a bit of a mystery. He didn’t speak about the up-coming parliamentary vote on the issue of the radar. It could also means that he also feels that maybe the radar could be rejected in a parliamentary vote in January or February and in spite of this issue will not go away and Czech politicians will return to it.”

In the interview with the BBC Mr Klaus also suggested that the US radar base would have more chance of being approved in the Czech Republic if US missile defense saw NATO involvement, something he said he hoped would be decided in the interim of US and Czech negotiations. Mr Klaus said explicitly that he hoped for a NATO role. Until now, NATO backing is something that has been outlined as “necessary” primarily by the opposition Social Democrats, and the coalition government’s Green Party. Jiri Pehe once again:

“I think that it is very difficult to say whether Mr Klaus backed NATO involvement earlier because he didn’t say much on the subject but bringing in NATO now it could mean that he is adding one more ‘condition’ for his support. This has been a demand of some political parties form supporting the radar: the opposition Social Democrats and the Greens have said repeatedly they would be willing to support the radar if it was part of NATO strategy.”

As it stands, a decision by the government on the radar is expected after negotiations wind up early next year. That will then be followed by a vote in parliament, to decide the project’s fate.

13-11-2007