By Katya Andrusz
Aug. 14 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. and Poland signed a preliminary accord today that will allow for 10 U.S. interceptor missiles to be based in the eastern European country, completing a defense system that Russia opposes.
The U.S. has agreed to Polish requests including modernization of its armed forces in exchange for the location of the missiles, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said in an interview with private broadcaster TVN24 this evening.
``We are now harvesting the fruit of many months of hard work,'' said Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski at a joint press conference with U.S. Undersecretary of State John Rood in Warsaw. ``Only people of ill intent should fear this agreement.''
Talks on locating part of the planned missile-defense shield on Polish territory made headway yesterday in the wake of the Georgian conflict.
The Russian incursion heightened Poland's security concerns and ``made the Polish government a little more willing to conclude a deal,'' said Wade Boese, research director at the Arms Control Association, a non-partisan group in Washington. ``It may also have made the Bush administration more willing to meet the Polish demands.''
White House View
In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the purpose of the system ``is to protect our European allies from any rogue threats such as a missile from Iran'' and ``in no way is the missile defense aimed at Russia.''
Perino said she ``couldn't say'' whether Russia's attacks in Georgia spurred today's final action on the agreement.
Poland and the U.S. have been holding talks on establishing an American base in Poland for more than 18 months. While the U.S. signed a final agreement last month with the Czech Republic on locating a radar base there, the Polish government held out for additional security assurances.
The Polish government said before the current round of missile defense talks that the Georgian conflict had underscored its arguments in favor of more security guarantees.
Sikorski confirmed that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had called off a visit to Warsaw, planned for next month. He said he had received the information before an agreement had been reached with Rood over missile defense and said he thought the Russian decision had been made ``in connection with Georgia.''
Russia has sharply criticized U.S. plans to place elements of the defense shield in the two former Soviet satellite states, saying they threatened its national security. The Russian government has repeatedly warned it would build up military defenses along its frontiers if the project went ahead.
Sikorski will talk to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice next week to find a date for signing a final contract, which also has to be ratified by the Polish parliament, he said today. If completed, the agreement will allow for the deployment of 10, two-stage missile interceptors made by Orbital Sciences Corp., based in Dulles, Virginia.
The missile shield may still encounter resistance from U.S. lawmakers. Congress, controlled by Democrats, has mandated that the interceptors' effectiveness be proven through tests and that the Polish and Czech Republic parliaments approve the deals before U.S. funding for the programs is approved, Boese said.
``We're still talking a number of years before any interceptors can actually be deployed, and in the meantime you're going to have a new administration that could rethink the whole plan,'' Boese said.
The Pentagon wants to start construction in Poland by July next year in order to have an initial capability to defend against Iranian missiles by April 2012, according to U.S. Missile Defense Agency briefing charts.
According to Tusk, the U.S. agreed to initially station one battery of Patriot air defense missiles on Polish soil with potentially more to follow. This would be good news to Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Co., as the two companies are the top contractors on the Patriot missile program.
Last Updated: August 14, 2008 17:44 EDT