WASHINGTON -- A senior U.S. diplomat told lawmakers on Tuesday he was hopeful that Turkey would decide soon whether to host a radar base that would provide key support for a planned European missile shield (see GSN, Aug. 1).
Francis Ricciardone, the Obama administration's ambassador to Turkey, addressed the issue during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The envoy is currently serving under a temporary recess appointment.
"Turkey has been in negotiations with the United States and NATO on missile defense radar for several years, with no agreement finalized to several outstanding Turkish concerns related to intelligence sharing with Israel," noted the panel's top Republican, Senator Richard Lugar (Ind.). "How close are we to concluding that deal?"
"We hope that the Turkish government will feel it has enough information to make a decision very soon," Ricciardone responded. "I'll be racing back to Ankara to try to find out more. We're waiting for that."
The ambassador said Turkey supports deployment of the radar system under the Obama administration's "phased adaptive approach" to protecting Europe from missile threats posed by nations such as Iran. The plan calls for the United States through 2020 to deploy increasingly sophisticated antimissile technology on sea and land around the continent. The U.S. infrastructure would be folded into NATO efforts to augment and connect member states' ballistic missile defenses.
The State Department said last week that Turkey is one of several NATO states in talks to host an advanced X-band radar system as part of the NATO missile shield.
"We're talking to a number of countries within NATO about this radar system and when it might be deployed but I don't want to get into the substance of those discussions," according to department spokesman Mark Toner.
Regarding talks with Ankara, Ricciardone said: "Naturally, they want to understand what this will mean for Turkey in all its technical, political and legal and certainly security aspects, how it will make Turkey more secure, as well as the rest of NATO. And we believe we're addressing those questions in full and substantive detail."
Several Republican senators have voiced reservations with Turkey being chosen to host the radar system out of concern that the government there could refuse to share technical data collected by the system with Israel (see GSN, July 13).
Relations between Ankara and Jerusalem were damaged last year when Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish nationals on an aid ship attempting to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.
At the same confirmation hearing, U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Norman Eisen said Washington's relations with Prague had not suffered from the Czech decision not to participate in the Obama administration's missile defense plan (see GSN, June 15).
"I'm pleased to tell you that the [Czech] government is strongly supportive of the NATO missile defense plan, the phased adaptive approach as adopted as -- at Lisbon," Eisen said, referring to the November 2010 NATO summit in which alliance member nations unanimously agreed to pursue joint missile defense.
Under a Bush-era program, the Czech Republic would have hosted a large radar base. President Obama, however, threw out that plan in 2009 in favor of the phased adaptive approach.
The Czech government rejected a U.S. offer to establish a missile threat early warning center in the Eastern European state.
"The Czechs felt that the data, the limited data that they would receive, under the SEW system, the shared early warning, was no longer necessary," said Eisen, who also received a recess appointment to his position. "But part of the result of the good conversations, the good partnership between the Czech government and the United States ... has been strong, strong embrace of the phased adaptive approach as adopted by NATO at Lisbon. So it's full steam ahead. We're in as good a place as ever on that."
Both Eisen and Ricciardone have served in their respective posts for seven months, noted Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). Recess appointments expire after one year. The committee on Tuesday took no action on the nominations.