UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The current financial crisis could delay a U.S. missile shield due to be built in the Czech Republic and Poland but both U.S. presidential candidates are committed to it, the Czech foreign minister said on Friday. Asked if the U.S. economic strife could slow down the project, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, “I could imagine that there will be a slowing up but both (candidates) agree that it is all right.
“Of course, it’s up to the Americans when they build it.”
Schwarzenberg said Czech officials had been in contact with the campaigns of both presidential candidates, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain, to discuss the future of the missile shield. He said a delay would be more likely if Obama wins the November 4 election.
“But basically both consider it important for the defense of the United States and the European continent,” he said.
The Czech government signed an agreement with the United States to host a radar in July and, last month, Poland agreed to host 10 missile interceptors as part of the shield. The deals still must go through the parliaments of the two countries.
The Czechs hope to get parliamentary approval of the radar pact by the end of the year.
The Bush administration wants a tracking radar system southwest of Prague as part of a plan to protect the United States and Europe against the perceived threat of missile attacks from countries such as Iran.
Moscow, at odds with Western governments over its invasion of Georgia, has said the plan is really aimed at Russia and that it would respond militarily to the deployment of U.S. missile interceptors close to its borders.
Schwarzenberg reiterated the Czech position that Russia had nothing to fear from the shield.
The problem for Moscow, Schwarzenberg said, was not the radar or interceptors but the fact that it will be located on what had been the territory of the Warsaw Pact, the alliance of the former Soviet Union and its satellite states. This is an area where Russian leaders believe they still have a say, he said.
The Warsaw Pact included Czechoslovakia, which split in 1993 into separate Czech and Slovak republics.
The Czechs take over the rotating presidency of the European Union from France on January 1, and Schwarzenberg said he expects the Russians are preparing a test for them and the EU.
“They will find a way to test us, I have no doubt,” he said.
It was impossible to say what the test would be, though it could take the form of a reduction in oil deliveries, he said.
Schwarzenberg recalled a speech by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in 2007 at a security conference in Munich in which Putin, then Russia’s president, vowed to prevent the United States from taking over the world.
Washington dismissed the speech at the time. The Czechs and others said it was like a declaration of a new Cold War.
The Czech foreign minister said Russia’s invasion of NATO-aspirant Georgia, which Moscow wants to keep out of the alliance, showed people should have taken Putin seriously.
“This was a clearly revisionist speech. Few people understood that it was meant seriously.” Asked if people were taking Putin seriously now, he said, “At least some, yes.”
Editing by Mohammad Zargham