Prague to Strike Deal to Host U.S. Radar in Days

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said Monday that he would conclude a deal on missile defense during talks this week in Washington.

The United States wants to place a radar system in the Czech Republic and 10 missile interceptors in Poland as part of a system it says is necessary to protect the United States and Europe against future attacks.

"We have reached a stage that we are able to complete the talks during my visit to America," Topolanek said in an interview Monday. He meets with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House on Wednesday.

The U.S. and Czech governments have been in talks for a year about the plan to place a missile-tracking radar at the Brdy military zone southwest of Prague.

Topolanek said he could not see "any serious problems that would prevent us from completing the treaties" this week but added that final agreement would not come until the Poles were fully satisfied with the project.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Sunday that he supported the missile defense project -- but on condition that Washington should help to modernize Poland's military defenses in return. Tusk will visit Washington from March 8 to 10.

Three weeks ago, Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said Poland and the United States had reached an agreement in principle, after he received assurances that Washington would help Warsaw strengthen its short- to medium-range air defenses.

Details remain to be worked out, however. Neither side would elaborate on Sikorski's statement, and it remained unclear whether the United States had made specific promises to provide air defense systems.

Defense Minister Bogdan Klich said in comments published Saturday that Poland's main expectations concerning U.S. aid were tied to air defense but added that Warsaw has also identified 17 areas where its military needs an upgrade.

Russia fiercely opposes the prospect of U.S. installations so close to its borders and has threatened to target any future base in Poland with its missiles, causing deep anxiety in Warsaw.

Topolanek said Moscow's objections were partly due to its eroded influence in the region. "The loss of Central Europe was considered fatal and they protested our entry into NATO in a similar fashion," Topolanek said, adding that Moscow was renewing "efforts to become a world superpower."

He emphasized the missile shield would be a "purely defensive" system that "is not aimed at the huge military arsenal of the Russian Federation."