Filed at 1:39 p.m. ET
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's military chief told the Czech Republic on Tuesday that hosting a U.S. missile defense shield would be a "big mistake" and urged Prague to delay a decision until a new U.S. president was elected.
The Czech Republic is considering whether to accept a radar station that would form part of a U.S. missile shield -- a system designed to intercept and destroy missiles from "rogue states" but which Moscow sees as a threat to its security.
"We say it will be a big mistake by the Czech government to put this radar site on Czech territory," Yuri Baluyevsky, the Russian military chief of staff, told reporters after meeting Czech Deputy Defense Minister Martin Bartak.
In a counter-proposal to the missile shield, Russia has offered the U.S. military joint use of a radar station it leases in ex-Soviet Azerbaijan. It said that would remove the need for the missile shield in Europe.
Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov said on Tuesday U.S., Russia and Azeri officials will have consultations on the offer in the Azeri capital in early September.
Baluyevsky said American and Russian officials would also meet in September in Moscow for talks on the shield.
Baluyevsky met the Czech delegation on the 39th anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia to crush the "Prague Spring," when Soviet tanks ended an attempt by the government of the day to promote liberal reforms.
The Russian general said the Czech Republic should hold off making a decision until after the U.S. presidential election, scheduled for late 2008, to replace President George W. Bush.
"A decision will be made by the Czech side only after the evaluation of all conditions, technical and otherwise," Baluyevsky said.
"I and my Russian colleagues simply ask that that process continue through to October-November of 2008, and I think you can all guess why."
Asked by a reporter to clarify, he said: "I do not exclude that a new administration in the United States will re-evaluate the current administration's decisions on missile defense."
Poland is also in talks with Washington about hosting another element of the missile shield on its soil.
The shield is the latest in a series of moves by Moscow's former Warsaw Pact allies to embrace NATO, effectively moving the West's military capabilities closer to Russia.
Bartak said his government had not yet made a decision.
"The most important thing I can say is that we have not yet said the final word on this and we will not until we have explored all avenues," he said.
Baluyevsky said the Czech stance was based on political rather than military considerations.
"There are unfounded allegations that Russia is attempting to disrupt the peace and tranquility of western Europe."
Baluyevsky said Moscow would use planned consultations with U.S. officials to push for the joint use of the Qabala radar station, and another installation in southern Russia.
Russia made the offer conditional on Washington scrapping its missile shield plans. U.S. President George W. Bush said the proposal was "innovative" but his officials made clear it was not a substitute for their radar deployment plans in Europe.
(Additional reporting by Lada Yevgrashina in Baku)