Prague - Following a few postponements, the US State Secretary Condoleezza Rice has finally arrived in Prague Tuesday morning.
Rice signed the treaty on deployment of a missile defence radar on Czech soil in Černínský Palace shortly before 3 p.m. Her counterpart from the Czech side was Foreign Affairs Minister Karel Schwarzenberg.
The US would like to have the defense system fully in operation by 2012.
Signing the deal, however, does not mean that the radar base would be placed in the Brdy region, as was originally planned. International treaties need to be approved by parliament, and the coalition parties will need opposition votes for this to happen.
However, the opposition - that is the Social Democrats (ČSSD) and the Communists (KSČM) - strongly disagree with the radar base plans in the Czech Republic.
There is a sizeable number of Czechs that object to the US missile defense system being based in the country as well.
The second part of the treaty which deals with the status of US soldiers on Czech soil has not been signed.
The plane with one of the most powerful women in the world landed at Ruzyně airport around 10 a.m.
Condoleezza Rice took two hours to rest and then met Czech PM Mirek Topolánek. Beside her admiration of the city of Prague, Rice talked about the necessity to build a defense system in Eastern Europe.
PM Topolánek said that to refuse the missile defense plan would be as grave a mistake as not having accepted the Marshall Plan.
Rice was given Czech garnets and a collection of Czech music by PM Topolánek as a souvenir.
After the signing, US State Secretary is scheduled to meet the Prague US embassy staff. Her program on Czech soil also includes a dinner with some of the Czech lawmakers.
The radar base issue has become one of the stickiest ones in the history of Czech politics. Russia strongly opposes the base, arguing it would pose a threat to their security.
Among Czechs the issue remains highly unpopular with estimated two thirds opposing the US base. Ne základnám (No to Bases) Initiative has taken action against the US defense system in ČR having collected over 130,000 signatures against the base.
The issue is all the more complicated as the US failed to reach consensus with Poland on stationing 10 interceptors, which would be linked to the Czech tracking base. Rice labeled the meeting with Poland´s Foreign Minister as "constructive", which can mean anything, including Poland´s future refusal to sign the treaty.
Russia was quick to respond. Interfax news agency quoted a senior source at the Russian Foreign Ministry, who said the US deal with the Czech Republic "in effect cancelled out" an agreement between Moscow and Washington to consult on the system.
The source also said "it has complicated problems of security" in Europe.
autor: National news reporters and Naďa Straková