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Czechs Protest Russian 'Threats' Over Missile-Defense Shield

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Czech counterpart, Karel Schwarzenberg, toast after signing the missile-defense deal in Prague on July 8
PRAGUE -- The Czech Republic has protested to Russia over what it called threats following the signing of a pact this week to host part of a U.S. missile-defense shield.

The Americans want to place a tracking radar system southwest of Prague as part of a plan to protect themselves and Europe against the perceived threat of missile attack from countries such as Iran.

Russia warned after the signing on July 8 that it would react with unspecified military-technical means if the shield is deployed.

"The Czech side...voiced concerns over continued excessive rhetoric of the Russian Federation towards the Czech Republic and threats by some Russian official representatives in this sense," the Czech Defense Ministry said in a statement after a visit by Russia Defense Ministry official Yevgeny Buzhinsky.

"Some of the statements and the form of their presentation are perceived in the Czech Republic as an interference with internal political affairs," the statement said.

Washington also wants to put 10 interceptor rockets in Poland as part of the system, but talks there have hit a stumbling block over Poland's demands for billions of dollars from the United States to upgrade its army and air-defense systems.

U.S. and Czech officials have repeatedly said the system would not threaten Russia and have offered Russia inspections of the radar base once it is built. Russia has demanded a permanent presence at the base, which the Czechs reject.

The Defense Ministry said it was prepared to continue dialogue with the Russians.

Analysts have said hosting the shield would further improve Czech and Polish relations with the United States and also raise U.S. security interest in the former Soviet bloc countries.