Washington wants to deploy 10 interceptor missiles and a radar station in Europe to reinforce its defences against the threat of a  ballistic missile attack from North Korea or Iran.

The US has been negotiating with the Czech Republic and Poland, both former communist states that now belong to Nato, over hosting a missile defence site in Eastern Europe.

It has also suggested that the system could be split between the two countries.

Russian objections

Russia has protested against Washington's plans, saying it could lead to a new arms race.

"We are convinced that a possible deployment of the radar station on our territory is in our interest."

Mirik Topolanek, Czech prime minister
Sergei Ivanov, the Russian defence minister, called it a "destabilising" move that Russia would respond to.

"The government is ready to seriously consider the United States' request," Topolanek said, adding that a committee would be set up in the next week to discuss the issue.

He said it could take several months before a decision is taken on whether to host the radar system.
 
If the plan is approved, about 200 specialists would be deployed to the base which would become operational in 2011.

"We are convinced that a possible deployment of the radar station on our territory is in our interest," he said on Saturday. "It will increase security of the Czech Republic and Europe."

Sensitive issue

The siting of a foreign base on Czech soil is a sensitive issue and both houses of parliament would have to approve it.

Topolanek's three-way coalition only commands 100 votes in the 200-seat lower house and was only confirmed in power thanks to two rebel Social Democrats.

The opposition Social Democratic Party has called for a national referendum on the issue, but Topolanek opposes the idea.

An opinion poll released earlier this month indicated two thirds of Czechs were against a missile interceptor site on Czech territory, but about 60 per cent would agree with just a radar.