- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2008

Poland’s government has agreed in principle to allow the Pentagon to set up a U.S. missile interceptor site on Polish territory to counter Iranian missiles, Warsaw’s foreign minister said yesterday.

Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski announced reaching the outlines of a basing agreement after meetings with Bush administration officials here. Mr. Sikorski said the deal, which is expected to be opposed by Russia and left-wing critics in Europe, will also boost Polish air defenses and overall security.

We are not at the end of the road [as] regards to negotiations, said Mr. Sikorski, a former defense minister. We are in the middle of the road. We have an agreement in principle.

The Pentagon plans call for placing 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a tracking radar in neighboring Czech Republic. The base would provide coverage of future long-range Iranian missiles targeted on the U.S. or Europe.

Negotiations with the Czech Republic government also are under way for placing a missile defense radar site in that country that would be part of the system.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, appearing with Mr. Sikorski at the State Department, said she supports the missile defense site and modernizing Polish air defenses.

I think there is a very good case for the proposal that Poland and the United States and indeed the Czech Republic go forward to put together an architecture for limited missile defenses, very limited missile defenses, that will protect the alliance and ourselves and frankly anyone else who is concerned about the emerging threats of the 21st century, for instance, the missile threat from Iran, she said.

The Bush administration has been discussing ways to cooperate on missile defenses with the Russians because the Russians face some of the same threats, Miss Rice said, noting that missile defense will help us all to be safer.

But Russian military officials in recent months have threatened to take unspecified action to counter a missile defense site in Poland, claiming the missiles, which are not armed with explosive warheads, threaten Russian security because they could be armed, or could be used to shoot down Russian missiles.

Efforts to convince the Russians that the missile interceptors pose no threat to Russia or its missiles have been ignored by Moscow.

Miss Rice said the current missile defense system is not the Strategic Defense Initiative program of the 1980s that was designed to deal with the threat posed by Russian nuclear missiles.

This is not that program. This is not the son of that program, she said. This is not the grandson of that program. This is a very different program that is meant to deal with limited threats.

Poland is one of the United States’ closest allies in what former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld once called new Europe, a reference to the pro-American stance of the former communist states of Eastern Europe. Poland has received nearly $750 million in military funding since the 1989 fall of its communist regime.

The third interceptor site would add to two other missile defense bases, already partially operational, in Alaska and California.

Regarding Moscow’s opposition, Mr. Sikorski said: The reinforced Polish air defenses are not directed against anybody. They are to enable Poland to be a stronger NATO ally with the United States, to enable Poland to take part in operations, in out-of-area operations, in joint operations.

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