Central Europe Socialists reject U.S. missile shield

By Jan Korselt, Reuters, Sept. 14, 2007

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Central European Social Democrat parties rejected on Thursday a U.S. plan to build part of its missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, saying it threatened to bring about a new arms race.

Top Socialists from Germany, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia said after talks in Prague that any such system must not be built unilaterally or bilaterally.

"We are concerned about the decision to deploy the system and are at one with the large majority of our populations in rejecting it," the parties said in a joint statement, which was signed among others by Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, Germany's SPD chief Kurt Beck, and Polish Socialist leader Wojciech Olejniczak.

They called on the European Union, the NATO alliance and the NATO-Russia council to consult on missile defense.

Beck said the statement was also a message to conservative German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with whom the Socialists jointly rule.

"We agreed we are against any new arms build-up in Europe," Beck said.

Some critics of the anti-missile system have warned the plan could be torpedoed if a Democrat president is elected next year after Republican George W. Bush, but a visiting senior Democrat said her party was behind the project.

"We wanted to come today to make very clear that we are very supportive... of missile defense," Ellen Tauscher, chairwoman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, said after meeting Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra in Prague.

She added that she hoped negotiations with the Czechs and the Poles would be concluded soon.

The ruling Hungarian Socialists attended the central European socialists' meeting but refused to join in.

"The Hungarian Socialist Party believes that if Europe is exposed to a terrorist threat we have to defend ourselves," said Imre Szekeres, deputy party chief and the country's defense minister.

The United States is building the shield to guard against missiles that it says could be fired by countries such as North Korea and Iran, carrying chemical, biological or nuclear warheads.

It is in talks with the rightist governments in Poland -- where it wants to put 10 ground-based interceptor missiles -- and in the Czech Republic, which is meant to host a radar base.

Russia opposes the plan, saying it would upset a delicate strategic balance between major powers and threaten its own security.

The plan has also hit obstacles in the United States.

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee cut $85 million from a $310.4 million funding request for the fiscal year starting October 1, joining the other three congressional committees with jurisdiction over the issue to recommend cutting the plan for European sites next year.

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