MOSCOW, August 21 (RIA Novosti) - The decision to go ahead with the deployment of U.S. missile defense elements in the Czech Republic is a big mistake, a Russian senior military official said Tuesday.
"Russian-Czech consultations on the issue, which were held four months ago, regrettably brought no change in the Czech position. You made the decision to push ahead with the deployment of a radar on your soil. I believe that would be a huge mistake by your leadership," Army Gen. Yury Baluyevsky, chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, said at a meeting with Martin Bartak, first deputy defense minister of the Czech Republic.
He said negotiations on the deployment of missile defense elements in Europe are becoming problematic, adding that the West doubts the need for such discussions.
"We are being told that there is no need to conduct consultations now that the decision to deploy a missile defense system has been made, and that Russia is only interfering in the dialogue between the U.S. and Poland and the U.S. and the Czech Republic. It seems to me that this is wrong," Baluyevsky said.
The Czech official said his country will not make a final decision on deploying a U.S. missile defense radar on its soil before the end of the year.
"The decision will be made by parliament," Bartak said. "We will continue talks and will not refuse to study the Russian Federation's proposal on the joint of use its [radar] capabilities. We will closely follow talks on the issue between Russia and the U.S."
He also said missile defense is a separate problem, which should not affect cooperation between Russia and the Czech Republic, not least in the military-technical sphere.
Gen. Baluyevsky urged Prague at the talks earlier Tuesday to delay the decision until after presidential elections in the United States, set for November 2008.
He said Washington might review Iran's missile threat, which was one of the reasons for its decision to deploy missile defense elements in Europe.
"We believe that, based on realistic assessments of threats from the south, additional measures may be implemented on the deployment of additional missile defense elements in Europe, and we will stand firm on this position" he said.
The U.S. has said it wants to place a radar and a host of interceptor missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic to fend off what Washington sees as an impending missile threat from Iran and North Korea. But Russia regards the plan as a threat to its national security.
President Vladimir Putin, during his two-day meeting with President George W. Bush at the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine, last month, proposed incorporating a new radar, currently being built in southern Russia, into a missile defense system managed by the NATO-Russia Joint Permanent Council, of which Moscow and Washington are members.
Russia also said it is ready to upgrade its early warning radar in Gabala, Azerbaijan, which was also proposed as an alternative to U.S. missile plans, but Washington has repeatedly called it obsolete.
But Putin's proposals received a lukewarm response from the U.S.