The lower house of the Czech parliament has opened debate on two agreements permitting deployment of radar for a U.S. missile defense system on Czech soil.

The country's center-right coalition government backs plans for the deployment.  But officials say they expect a close vote in the lower house where the coalition has no majority.

The Czech Senate will consider the treaties Thursday.

U.S Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his Czech counterpart, Vlasta Parkanova, signed the two agreements earlier this year.

Under the U.S. plan, the radar in the Czech Republic will provide guidance for 10 interceptor missiles to be deployed in Poland.

U.S. officials say the missile shield is designed to protect against what they call threats from rogue countries, such as Iran.  But Russia strongly opposes the system and insists the U.S. deployments in Europe will threaten its security.

The director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, General Henry Obering Wednesday expressed hope Polish lawmakers will quickly approve the agreements.

Obering told reporters the United States would like the anti-missile base in Poland to be active by 2012.  He spoke as he visited the site of the planned facility in northern Poland.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.