REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
Rising tensions between the U.S. and Russia are threatening to dominate President Bush's six-day trip to Europe. The president was in Prague today to talk about U.S. plans to build part of its missile defense system in Eastern Europe. That plan has prompted angry comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin. And while President Bush is dismissing talk of a new Cold War, he did have strong words for Russia on the topic of democracy today.
NPR's Don Gonyea reports.
DON GONYEA: Russian President Putin is warning that if the U.S. sets up a missile system in the Czech Republic and Poland, then Russia will have no choice but to change its military posture and aim its own missiles at European targets.
In Prague, President Bush ignored shouted questions from reporters about a new Cold War. But later in a prepared statement, he seemed frustrated with Putin's attitude.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Let me first talk about a general principle when it comes to relations with Russia. The Cold War is over. It ended.
GONYEA: President Bush insisted that Russia is not the target of the missile defense shield, but that the system is designed to protect Europe from a ballistic missile attack from what the president calls rouge regimes such as Iran. The president said Russia is not the enemy.
Pres. BUSH: My message will be, you know, Vladimir - I call him Vladimir - that, you know, you shouldn't fear a missile defense system. As a matter of fact, why don't you cooperate with us on a missile defense system? Why don't you participate with the United States?
GONYEA: Mr. Bush was joined at the event by President Vaclav Klaus and Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek. The Czech government supports the missile defense plan, which would include a radar installation outside Prague. Topolanek, speaking here through an interpreter, made the case for the missile defense by noting his country's history, which includes past dominance by the Soviet Union.
Prime Minister MIREK TOPOLANEK (Czech Republic): (Through Translator) This is about the joint will for defense of freedom. And I think the Czechs are much more sensitive to that than any other - than many other European nations. That's why we want to be involved.
GONYEA: Still the Czech public is not supportive of the missile shield with a new poll putting opposition here at 60 percent. Later in the day, President Bush delivered what the White House build as a major speech on the spread of democracy around the world and places where freedoms are stifled. He singled out Burma and Cuba and others. And at one point, he expressed concerns about the state of democratic reform in Russia.
Pres. BUSH: Russian reforms that were once promised to empower citizens had been derailed with troubling implications for democratic development. Part of a good relationship is the ability to talk openly about our disagreements.
GONYEA: And talk, they will, with a pair of upcoming meetings between presidents Bush and Putin. The first will be short day after tomorrow at the G8 summit of the world's leading economic powers in Germany. The tone of that meeting may offer clues as to how difficult the subsequent session will be. That one will take place over two days in July in Kennebunk Fort, Maine at the compound owned by President Bush's parents.
Don Gonyea, NPR News in Prague.
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