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Mon, Sep 22, 2008

US, Czechs Sign Ballistic Defense Treaties

Will Host Limited (But Controversial) Defense Against Iranian Missiles

The United States and the Czech Republic signed agreements Friday that will allow the United States to build a limited ballistic missile defense system to protect Europe from missiles fired from Iran or other rogue nations.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Czech Defense Minister Vlasta Parkanova signed the status of forces agreement that will allow basing of US forces in the Czech Republic and a declaration on strategic defense cooperation between the two nations.

Gates was in the Czech Republic for a NATO defense ministers meeting.

The Czech Republic will host a US-built radar that will protect most of Europe from a limited ballistic missile attack. The radar -- along with missiles based in Poland -- will be able to shoot down a small number of missiles launched by rogue states.

"[The two agreements] will finalize the framework for stationing US personnel in the Czech Republic in connection with the missile defense radar site," Gates said. "This is a culmination of a process that will draw our nations closer and will help protect Europe from limited missile attacks."

Gates praised the Czech Republic for taking the lead against future Euro-Atlantic threats and thanked the minister and her people for their support. He specifically thanked the Czech people for their sacrifices in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The agreement ... will be a significant contribution to the security of own country, to the security of the Euro-Atlantic region and ... also a significant contribution to the Atlantic Alliance," Parkanova said through a translator. "It may seem that we have taken a lot of time to sign the two documents, ... but this is indicative and proof of one fact: that the negotiations were tough, but fair, and that both parties can carry through their collective requirements."

The radar site will be built in the Brdy Military Training Area. A study US experts will conduct in November will give a better idea when the facility will be finished. Under the agreement, no more than 250 American personnel can be based at the facility.

Gates spoke about the NATO meeting after the signing.

"This meeting was about transformation of the alliance," Gates said. "I think there was general agreement that the kinds of measures that we discussed and the actions the ministers have mandated are aimed at improving NATO's capabilities across the board. If we are able to follow through on the initiatives that we have discussed, NATO's ability to meet all its commitments will be significantly enhanced."

Gates also said the ministers discussed funding for doubling the size of the Afghan National Army. "There was discussion of the expansion of the Afghan National Army and the added costs that will be involved," he said. "On the margins of the conference, I let a number of my colleagues know that we would be in touch in terms of sharing the cost."

Improving the capabilities of the Afghan army is NATO's long-term exit strategy from Afghanistan.

"Good governance, civic development are equally important [in Afghanistan], but turning security responsibilities to the Afghans themselves at some future date is really the goal we all have in mind," Gates said. "We need to be prepared the share the cost to make that happen."

(Aero-News thanks Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service)

FMI: www.defenselink.mil

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