Poland Agrees to Host U.S. Shield
The United States and Poland reached "an agreement in principle" on missile defense Friday, prompting an angry reaction from Russia over the weekend.
Poland agreed to let the U.S. military install missile interceptors on its territory after Washington consented to a demand by Warsaw's new center-right government to beef up the country's air defenses.
Since coming to power in November, the government of Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has lobbied Washington for additional security guarantees in response to Russian threats of retaliation against the proposed missile defense site.
Moscow has adamantly opposed the plans of U.S. President George W. Bush to install 10 interceptors in Poland and a radar installation in the Czech Republic, which Washington says are meant to protect against an attack by Iran or other "rogue states."
The Kremlin -- which believes the U.S. missile shield is directed against Russia -- has threatened to target the Polish and Czech sites and to deploy missiles in the Kaliningrad region, which borders Poland.
The Russian threats have prompted Poland to demand more from its NATO ally. In his electoral campaign, Tusk vowed to push Washington for more rewards in exchange for hosting the interceptors.
On Friday, Poland got what it wanted -- and derailed Russian hopes that Tusk's government would put the brakes on Washington's missile defense plan.
"We understand that there is a desire for defense modernization in Poland and particularly for air-defense modernization," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday after a meeting with her Polish counterpart in Washington.
"This is something that we support because it will make our ally, Poland, more capable," she added, according to a transcript on the U.S. State Department's web site.
For his part, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski stressed that negotiations were still ongoing and that a final agreement would only be reached after Tusk visited Washington in March. "We are not at the end of the road as regards negotiations," Sikorski said. "We are in the middle of the road. We have an agreement in principle."
The previous day, Sikorski had used the word "blackmail" in an apparent allusion to Russian threats during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank where he once worked. "As many of you know, Poland has come under political pressure and has even been blackmailed by some of our neighbors, who fiercely oppose this project," Sikorski said, Reuters reported.
He also raised the prospect of hosting a full-fledged NATO base in Poland. "The prospect of American troops on our soil ... is something that we would welcome," he told Reuters in an interview.
Russian officials criticized Sikorski's comments and the U.S.-Polish radar agreement. Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's newly appointed representative to NATO, implied that Tusk's government had broken a promise to consult with Moscow before pursuing missile defense plans with Washington.
"The new Polish prime minister ... claimed this issue would be tackled in dialogue with Washington, Brussels and Moscow," Rogozin said Sunday, Interfax reported. "It is obvious now that the dialogue with Moscow has ended without having even started."
Tusk is scheduled to visit Moscow on Friday for talks with President Vladimir Putin.
Rogozin, a former leader of the nationalist Rodina party who started his new job in Brussels last week, raised the specter of World War II in his comments about the tightening U.S.-Polish alliance. "The Polish colleagues must be reminded of their recent history, which indicates that attempts to place Poland 'on the confrontation line' have always led to tragedies. That way Poland lost nearly one-third of its citizens during World War II," he said.
"I was sure this horrible lesson would not be wasted and Poland would plan its foreign policy relying on friendly relations all along the borderline," he added.
Meanwhile, a senior Russian diplomat suggested that the U.S.-Polish radar deal could spell the end of Moscow's proposal to cooperate with Washington on missile defense.
Last year, Putin proposed that Washington use a Russian-operated radar facility in Gabala, Azerbaijan, as well as another one under construction at Armavir, in southern Russia, as part of a joint U.S.-Russian missile shield.
Putin argued that the sites would be much closer to Iran than the Pentagon's proposed installations in Poland and Czech Republic. U.S. officials welcomed the proposal but said the proposed Azeri and Russian facilities would only be used in addition to the Eastern European ones, not in place of them.
That position is not acceptable to Russia, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak reiterated Saturday.
"The United States wants to use the potential radar installations at Gabala and, possibly, Armavir, not as an alternative to [the Eastern European sites] but to strengthen their own systems," Kislyak said, Interfax reported.
"A general settlement will not be reached," he added.
The Kremlin's opposition to the missile shield has created a diplomatic headache for Washington, which has sought to reassure Moscow that the sites are directed against a potential threat from Iran, not at Russia's own arsenal.
On Friday, Rice appeared to be addressing Russian concerns when she said the current missile shield plan was not a revival of the Reagan-era Strategic Defense Initiative, the so-called "Star Wars" program that was meant to protect the United States from attack by the Soviet Union's nuclear ballistic missiles.
"This is not that program," Rice said. "This is not the son of that program. This is not the grandson of that program. This is a very different program that is meant to deal with limited threats. There is no way that a few interceptors in Poland and radars in the Czech Republic can degrade the thousands of nuclear warheads that the Russians have and there is no intent to do so."
Neither Rice nor Sikorski said exactly what Washington had agreed to give Warsaw in exchange for hosting the interceptors, but Polish officials had previously requested short- and medium-range air-defense systems such as the Patriot missile system.
(The Moscow Times