PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- The Czech Republic is withdrawing from U.S. missile defense plans out of frustration at its diminished role, the Czech defense minister told The Associated Press Wednesday.
The Bush administration first proposed stationing 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and an advanced radar in the Czech Republic, saying the system was aimed at blunting future missile threats from Iran. But Russia angrily objected and warned that it would station its own missiles close to Poland if the plan went through.
In September 2009, the Obama administration shelved that plan and offered a new, reconfigured phased program with a smaller role for the Czechs, who were offered an early warning center that would gather and analyze information from satellites to detect missiles aimed at NATO territory.
Defense Minister Alexander Vondra told the AP that the Czech Republic wanted to participate but "definitely not in this way."
"They gave us an offer and we assessed that," Vondra said. "I would say we've solved it in an elegant way."
Vondra spoke Wednesday after meeting U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn.
The two men said both sides will be looking at possibilities of Czech participation in the future.
"We can return to it at some point but it's premature at the moment," Vondra said. "We have certain ideas but it's too early to speak about them."
Vondra and Lynn told reporters during an earlier news conference that the official reason for the Czech withdrawal was that the center was no longer needed after a bigger role for NATO in the new system was endorsed at a summit in Lisbon last year.
"The offer that we made has been overtaken by events," Lynn said. "The Lisbon summit has changed the nature of the missile defense framework that we're operating in. The offer, while I think an interesting one, a good one, no longer fits either the missile defense framework or Czech needs."
But Vondra called it "a consolation prize" at a meeting of NATO defense ministers last week in Brussels.
"Our ideas about the future cooperation are more colorful than just a room or two with some screens there," Vondra said.
The new U.S. administration's plan calls for placing land- and sea-based radars and interceptors in several European locations, including Romania and Poland, over the next decade and upgrading them over time. As the first part of the plan, the United States in March deployed to the Mediterranean the USS Monterey, a ship equipped to detect and shoot down missiles.
"I'm not surprised by the decision," said Jan Vidim, a lawmaker in the lower house of the Czech Parliament. "The United States has been and will be our crucial strategic partner but the current administration doesn't take the Czech Republic seriously."
Vidim's remarks reflected concern by many in Central and Eastern Europe that the U.S. interest in resetting ties with Moscow could come at their expense.
Others were celebrating.
"That's wonderful news," said Eva Novotna, who helped organized numerous protest against Czech involvement. "I'm really pleased to hear that."