Reports have emerged recently that part of the controversial missile defence shield currently being built by the United States could be located here in the Czech Republic. The project, nicknamed "Son of Star Wars," is intended to protect the US and its allies from ballistic missile attack. News that Czech authorities have been in talks with Washington over basing part of the system here has provoked angry reactions. But how close are the plans to becoming reality? That's a question we put to Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Winkler.
"I can't confirm that there were negotiations. I understand that there were some preliminary contacts on the working level. We are waiting for indication from the American side that there is concrete interest. So far we haven't gotten any indication that there is a serious and concrete interest from the American side. There is some activity on the NATO side. There is a feasibility study in progress of missile defence strategy and this study will deliver results in 2005. I think that the United States is waiting to see how this feasibility study will be received or accepted by NATO members."
Of course if part of the system is based in this country, there is a big question mark over where it would be located. But Mr Winkler says it is too early to discuss the issue with local authorities.
"We will not start any research or concrete discussions with local governments until there is a clear sign of will and then of course before we will start discussions about something concrete be it science or technology or whatever, there has to be a political debate."
There has been some international debate about the "Son of Star Wars" project, with Russia in particular expressing its opposition. Is there a danger that the Czech Republic might get caught in the crossfire in any dispute between the Russians and the US?
"Of course if this were made part of NATO-Russia communications it would be easier. Of course I cannot imagine the situation where we might appear isolated individually or starting a diplomatic conflict."
In the light of the fact that the missile defence system is so controversial, what would the Czech Republic gain from involvement? The Foreign Ministry's Jan Winkler again:
"It's a big question of strategy, saying that we have to be prepared for the current and future threats not to cope with the threats of the past. Therefore whatever is introduced as a vehicle or instrument really capable of protecting the country from the threats of the future, I think that the government should take it into consideration."
As Mr Winkler says, talks between the Czech and US authorities are still in the early stages. On top of that, there is also a chance that Poland could eventually be chosen ahead of the Czech Republic. Given those facts, does the deputy minister think the whole issue has been somewhat blown out of proportion?
"Yes. I think the Ministry of Defence and the whole government is acting with the limits of the government program, and within the national defence strategy that was adopted by parliament and I think that government didn't get beyond those limits."
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