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Czech Republic approves second missile defense deal with USA

The Czech Republic's government approved the second and final part of a missile defense treaty with the United States on Wednesday, but the agreement still requires the approval of parliament, where it faces strong opposition.

Meanwhile, Russia warned once again that its ballistic rockets could be aimed at the proposed U.S. missile defense system, which would involve tracking radar in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland. Russia fiercely opposes the plan, saying U.S. military installations in former Soviet satellites pose a threat Russian security.

The Czech government already has approved the main bilateral treaty allowing the United States to build a radar base near Prague.

The second "complementary" treaty approved Wednesday regards taxes and the legal status of U.S. soldiers to be deployed at the base. Czech Defense Minister Vlasta Parkanova said she expects to sign it with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates during an informal meeting of NATO defense ministers in London next week.

Poland and the United States reached their deal last month, and Washington wants to have the Polish and Czech sites in operation by about 2012.

However, the Czech treaties still require parliamentary approval.

The government has too few seats to guarantee their passage and would need the help of opposition votes. Opposition parties have strongly criticized the missile defense plan and demanded a national referendum. Most Czechs also oppose the base, according to recent polls.

Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said Wednesday the final vote in parliament was unlikely to take place before the U.S. presidential election in November.

Russia, which raised alarm across Europe by defeating Georgia in last month's war, made it clear once again on Wednesday that it opposes the missile defense system, which Washington has said it designed to protect Europe and America from attacks from Iran.

Col. Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, the commander of Russia's strategic missile forces, was quoted by ITAR-Tass and Interfax on Wednesday as saying that he cannot rule out that "both the missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic and other similar facilities in the future could be designated as targets for our ICBMs," or intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Asked about Solovtsov's comment, Topolanek told reporters: "The radar is purely defensive. It aims against individual long-range ballistic missiles from rogue states or organizations that could acquire such weapons."

"It cannot be ... used against the state like the Russian Federation with the arsenal of thousands of such missiles. That is obviously technical, security and military nonsense," said Topolanek.

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