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U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice starts a European
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice starts a European tour on Monday with a visit to the Czech Republic to sign a missile shield agreement, and will later travel to Bulgaria and Georgia.

The State Department said Rice would meet with senior Czech, Bulgarian and Georgian officials to discuss a wide range of bilateral and transatlantic issues on July 7-10.

In Prague, Rice is expected to sign an agreement on the deployment of a missile tracking radar on Czech territory. The United States also plans to place interceptor missiles in Poland to counter a potential strike from Iran, but talks with Warsaw have stalled.

The plans are fiercely opposed by Russia, which sees them as a threat to national security and the international nuclear deterrence system.

In Sofia, Rice is expected to receive an award for her role in securing the release of Bulgarian medics from a Libyan prison, the State Department said.

Rice's visit to Georgia will take place amid rising tensions between the post Soviet Caucasus country, which seeks NATO membership, and its breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have recently seen several bombings and disputes over peacekeepers.

Russia has provided aid to Abkhazia and recently sent additional troops into the area, saying they are needed to deter new bloodshed, and accusing Tbilisi of escalating the conflict. Georgia has charged Moscow with trying to annex the two breakaway territories.


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