Poland urges US to live up to missile shield commitments

23rd March 2009, Comments 0 comments

Russia was enraged by the US missile plans -- which the last administration under George W. Bush said was needed to counter a threat from Iran -- but has welcomed the review ordered by President Barack Obama.

Brussels -- Poland urged the United States Sunday to live up to past commitments on missile defence as Washington reviews plans to expand its system into Europe, including basing interceptors in Poland.

But US Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, touted for a top arms control post in the new US administration, said it was more important to counter the real threat from short- and medium-range missiles, while the review takes place.

"We hope we don't regret our trust in the United States," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said at the Brussels Forum conference to an audience of senior world politicians and experts.

Russia was enraged by the US missile plans -- which the last administration under George W. Bush said was needed to counter a threat from Iran -- but has welcomed the review ordered by President Barack Obama.

"When we started discussing this business with the United States, the US assured us that they would persuade Russia," Sikorski said.

"I am afraid Russian generals and even the Russian president continue to threaten us with the deployment of medium-range missiles," he said.

The United States has been negotiating with Poland and the Czech Republic to install 10 missile interceptors, which would not carry explosive warheads, and a radar system on their territories to expand its shield into Europe.

Russia sees the system, initially meant to be in operation by 2013, as a threat to its security, but Washington denies this and has even struggled to bring Moscow on-board with the system.

Russia had threatened to deploy Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave wedged between NATO and EU members Poland and Lithuania, if Washington did not halt the planned extensions.

But it was assuaged by Obama's decision to order a review of the multi-billion dollar project to see whether it is still technically feasible and cost effective. The time needed to conduct it is unclear.

Obama has also offered Tehran a "new beginning" to turn back the tide on decades of mutual distrust.

"Poland has taken a political risk in signing up with the previous administration," Sikorski underlined.

Last month, Polish Defence Minister Bogdan Klich said talks with Washington on the plan, and in particular the stationing of US Patriot missiles in Poland and other benefits Warsaw stood to gain, were ongoing.

But Czech officials have said they would be prepared to wait three years for work on the radar base to begin. Polls show the Czech public is largely opposed to the system.

Tauscher, currently being vetted for the job of undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said it was more important to move ahead with short- and medium-range missile defences.

She said that Russia should be brought on board with NATO on such a system and that if the US shield proved feasible and cost-effective, it could be attached if this were acceptable.

"We need to re-assess," she said, noting that the US Congress believes the shield should not be deployed further until it has undergone "three or four more tests".

"The threat is short- and medium-range missiles targeted towards our forward deployed troops, and our allies in southern Europe," she said.

"We need to move in a NATO-ised way. Eventually we will develop a short- and medium-range system, one that will clearly share optics with Russia. We can certainly bolt on a long-range system once it has been tested."

Lorne Cook/AFP/Expatica

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