Czech, U.S. sign SOFA treaty on U.S. troops on Czech soil

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Czech Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova today signed the SOFA treaty on the conditions of the presence of U.S. troops on Czech soil in connection with the planned stationing of a U.S. radar base in the Czech Republic.

After an informal meeting of NATO members' defence ministers, Gates and Parkanova also signed the Declaration on Strategic Cooperation between the two countries.

The main treaty on the U.S. radar was signed in July by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg.

The United States plans to build a radar base in the military district Brdy, some 90km southwest of Prague.

Along with a base for ten interceptor missiles in Poland, the elements of the missile defence shield are to protect the United States and a large part of the European continent against missiles that states like Iran might launch. The plan is strongly opposed by Russia.

The 34 articles of SOFA were formulated after 16 months of negotiations. The Czech Defence Ministry said it succeeded in reaching a compromise on all points it wanted to.

"The Czech side has pushed through that the document will only relate to the U.S. personnel who will be connected with the radar base," Parkanova said previously.

The application of the treaty on other cases of U.S. armed forces' stay is only possible upon consent of the Czech Republic that would be expressed in harmony with the constitution.

The Czech Republic has kept full sovereignty and ownership right to the area and any property whose use was allowed to the U.S. armed forces.

The last open issue was that of taxes on U.S. suppliers. Tax exemption will only apply in a limited fashion to the U.S. firms and their employees who pay a similar tax in the United States. Other suppliers and their staff will be subjected to the Czech legislation. Diplomats said the main problem was different laws in the two countries.

The full text of the SOFA treaty will be released on Monday 22.

The Declaration on Strategic Cooperation is to be available later today. Under it, a group headed by Parkanova and Gates' deputies will focus on information exchange, cooperation in defence industry and help in the transformation of the Czech military.

Media mentioned a possible delivery of two U.S.-made Hercules aircraft to the Czech military. However, the information has not yet been confirmed.

The Czech negotiators point out that the declaration and possible U.S. help are not connected with the agreement on the U.S. radar. Cooperation was lunched after the signing of the main treaty this summer.

Czech parliament is to start discussing the two treaties on the radar in October. It is likely to vote on them in December, after the U.S. presidential elections.

[Source: Czech News Agency, London, 19Sep08]

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