Missile shield to go ahead
Sat, Nov 08, 2008

WARSAW - PRESIDENT-ELECT Barack Obama has told Polish President Lech Kaczynski he will go ahead with plans to build a missile defence shield in eastern Europe despite threats from Russia, Warsaw said on Saturday.

'Mr Barack Obama has underlined the importance of the strategic partnership between Poland and the United States, he expressed his hope of continuing the political and military cooperation between our two countries.

'He also said the anti-missile shield project would go ahead,' said a statement issued by Kaczynski after the two men spoke by telephone.

Warsaw and Washington signed a deal on Aug 14 to base part of a US missile shield in Poland, amid Moscow's vehement opposition and mounting East-West tensions over Georgia.

The US wants to base 10 interceptor missiles in Poland plus a radar facility in the neighbouring Czech Republic by 2011-2013 to complete a system already in place in the United States, Greenland and Britain.

Washington says the shield - endorsed by Nato in Feb - is aimed at fending off potential attacks by so-called 'rogue states' such as Iran, and is in no way aimed at Russia.

The United States warns that Iran could develop long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads by 2015-2017.

The plan has enraged Moscow, master of Poland and the then Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. Both countries broke from the crumbling communist bloc in 1989, joined Nato in 1999 and the European Union in 2004.

Regarding it as a grave security threat, the Kremlin has threatened to aim its own missiles at the planned US installations.

Just hours after Mr Obama's victory speech, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow would station short-range missile systems in its Kaliningrad enclave wedged between Poland and fellow EU member Lithuania.

US negotiator John Rood said on Thursday that Washington had given Russia fresh proposals to try to ease its concerns and hoped the row could still be resolved.

He said the offer was sent 'earlier this week,' before Mr Medvedev announced his plans to deploy missiles in Kaliningrad.

Mr Medvedev's remarks on Wednesday amounted to a warning shot to Mr Obama and Washington's allies in central Europe.

Mr Rood, the US under secretary for arms control and international security, said the proposals submitted to Russia built on previous ones that would allow Russian authorities access to the missile shield sites.

'We've elaborated on our previous proposals,' Mr Rood told reporters without going into detail.

Mr Rood planned to meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Ryabkov in the coming weeks, probably in Moscow, to discuss the proposals as well as other issues, including cooperation on avoiding nuclear terrorism.

He said he was still optimistic about a solution despite Mr Medvedev's threat to deploy missiles, which he called 'disappointing' and 'unwelcome.' The European Union and Nato also expressed strong concern over Russia's decision to deploy missiles on the EU's doorstep.

Polish lawmakers have yet to ratify the US missile defence deal while the Czech government has called for a delay in a final vote on its radar agreements until the inauguration of President George W. Bush's successor in Jan.

'We want a delay to make sure about the attitude of the new American administration,' Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said last month.

There had been suggestions that Mr Obama could be less enthusiastic for the shield than his Republican rival for the presidency John McCain.

Mr Obama also spoke on Friday evening with Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk, notably about his country's participation in Nato's International Security and Assistance Force in Afghanistan, a government spokesman said.

The 1,200-member Polish ISAF contingent is based in Ghazni province in eastern Afghanistan, and is due to be bolstered with 400 more troops in coming months.


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