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Rice, Polish Counterpart, Report Progress on Missile Defense


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski Friday reported progress in talks on Poland's role in a U.S. missile-defense system aimed at a potential Iranian threat. The plan, which would also involve the Czech Republic, has drawn the ire of Moscow. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

No final accord was announced here. But the Polish Foreign Minister said the sides have an agreement in principle that would clear the way for Poland to take part, and that a deal could be finalized during a Washington visit by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk in early March.

Under the envisaged system, the United States would base 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and put a related advanced radar installation in the Czech Republic.

The United States insists that the system is intended to counter only a limited missile threat from Iran or some other rogue state. But Russia contends it would undermine its strategic deterrence and has threatened unspecified retaliation if it goes forward.

As conditions for its participation, Poland has sought U.S. help to upgrade its air defenses and also greater security assurances from Washington in the face of Russian anger.

At a joint press appearance with Sikorski, Secretary Rice made clear the Bush administration does support an air defense upgrade for Poland to make it a more capable NATO ally. And she said the American military commitment to Poland, as stated in the NATO mutual defense treaty, is "unassailable:"

"It should be fully understood that the United States takes its obligation to Poland exactly as it's stated in Article Five [of the NATO Treaty], that an attack upon one is an attack upon all," she said. "There is no more solemn obligation. And I just want to say, you know, when Poland joined the alliance, the alliance and the United States knew that we were, in fact, taking on an Article Five commitment. And so this is not an empty commitment, this is a real commitment."

Rice said that while the United States sought during the 1980's to build a defense system that could counter Moscow's strategic missile forces, the current plan is neither the son, nor the grandson of the so-called "Star Wars" project of the Reagan administration.

She said it is a very different program meant to deal with limited threats, and that there is "no way" that a few interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic can degrade the thousands of nuclear warheads fielded by Moscow.

Sikorski, for his part, also rejected any hostile intent toward Russia:

"The proposed anti-missile base in Poland is not directed against Russia," he noted. "It's only directed against those who choose to be our enemies. And just as much, the reinforced polish air defenses are not directed against anybody. They are to enable Poland to be a stronger NATO ally with the United States. They are to enable Poland to take part in operations, in out-of-area operations, in joint operations. The idea is that America and Poland, thanks to what we are discussing today, can do more together in the future."

Sikorski said the sides would now intensify their dialogue on both the missile defense plan and Polish air defenses with the aim of reaching a "final and positive decision" during the Polish Prime Minister's March meeting with President Bush.

Negotiators from the United States and the Czech Republic completed a round of talks on that country's role in the missile defense plan earlier this week in Prague. Czech government officials have said an agreement could be completed during the first half of this year.

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