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1 Poland reassured over US missile shield plans on Wed Jul 08, 2009 4:47 pm

rosco 357

Poland reassured over US missile shield plans: minister
Jul 8 03:01 PM US/Eastern
Washington has calmed concerns that in a drive to rebuild ties with Russia it could drop a plan to set up a US anti-missile base in Poland, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said Wednesday.

"I'm reassured," Sikorski told reporters after he was briefed by US Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Mull on this week's Moscow summit between US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev.

"We know that a decision will be taken by the United States and its Polish and Czech allies, and not by third parties. And that's good news," he said.

In 2008, Warsaw and Washington struck a deal on deploying 10 US long-range interceptor missiles in Poland as part of a global air-defence system which was heavily pushed by the US administration of George W. Bush.

Bush's successor Obama has launched a review of the controversial system -- which Washington says is meant to block potential Iranian attacks, but which is fiercely opposed by Russia.

"We're strictly focused on what is the threat to our allies and to us, secondly what is the best way to respond to that, and thirdly what's the most cost-efficient way to do it," Mull underscored.

"We're going to finish that study, which we've accelerated, by the end of the summer. We will discuss it internally with our Polish allies and our Czech allies and within NATO before announcing it more broadly," he added.

The anti-missile system, meant to be ready by 2013, would also includes a radar base in the Czech Republic, Poland's southern neighbour.

Moscow has been enraged by what it sees as the latest US foray into its Soviet-era sphere of influence and has threatened to train nuclear warheads on Poland and the Czech Republic. Both broke free from the communist bloc in 1989 and joined NATO 10 years later.

Obama's review sparked concerns in Warsaw and Prague that after sticking out their necks for Washington, they would be left to take the flak from Moscow amid a thawing of ties between the two giants.

Following Obama's talks with Medvedev on Monday, the US leader kept the door open for further discussions on Russia's concerns.

Medvedev highlighted as the main "step forward" an agreement by the United States for the issue of both defensive and offensive weapons to be included in broader negotiations on a treaty to replace a 1991 accord on limiting the two powers' nuclear arsenals, due to expire in December.

On Tuesday, however, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reaffirmed that the shield plan could jeopardise future nuclear arms cuts.

Last month, the Polish government had complained Washington was fudging on the shield and a related plan to boost Poland's air defences by deploying Patriot missiles here.

Both the anti-missile base and the Patriot deployment hinge on the conclusion of a so-called Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) governing the presence of US troops on Polish soil.

"The SOFA negotiations are proceeding at a steady pace. Another round is planned in Washington next week," Sikorski said.

Mull noted that the issue was "very complicated."

"But we're very optimistic, we're making big progress," he said.

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