The United States said Tuesday it still expects to conclude an agreement setting up a missile-defense base in Poland, despite suggestions negotiations have stalled. The system is intended to counter a missile threat from Iran or another rogue state. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
U.S. officials say they believe the missile talks with Poland can be successfully concluded within days, despite a comment from Warsaw that negotiations are at an impasse, and news reports that Lithuania might be an alternate basing site.
The Bush administration is seeking to base 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and an associated radar site in the Czech Republic as part of a system intended to counter long-range missiles it believes Iran could have in a few years.
U.S. officials say a tentative deal with the Czech Republic is in hand, but a Polish negotiator Tuesday was quoted as saying talks with Washington are stalled. Meanwhile a Washington visit by Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas this week has prompted renewed press speculation that the Baltic state might be an alternate site.
At a news briefing State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said the United States has discussed missile defense with Lithuania along with other NATO countries but said the focus of U.S. efforts remains on Poland:
"We are not at this point involved in any negotiations on alternative sites because our goal is to conclude an agreement with Poland," he said. "If, for some reason, those arrangements don't work out, then I'm sure we'd look elsewhere. I'm sure the folks in the Missile Defense Agency have some ideas as to what might be technically feasible. But in terms of discussions for right now, my understanding is we are still focused on Poland."
Poland is understood to be pushing for a multi-billion dollar U.S. upgrade of its air defenses in return for accepting the anti-missile system. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Tuesday his government is being a hard negotiator, but denied any impasse.
One official here said he expected an agreement with Poland within a week or two, but said it was unclear if it can be finalized before an expected European trip by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice later this month.
Russia has protested the U.S. missile defense plan as a threat to its security though U.S. officials insist it poses no threat to Moscow's vast strategic arsenal.
There is also domestic U.S. criticism of the project. The Washington Post newspaper in an editorial Tuesday called on the Bush White House to leave the matter to the next administration.
However spokesman Casey said President Bush has a fundamental obligation to pursue U.S. interests as he sees them, and to counter threats to U.S. security, until the end of his term next January:
"That is going to continue until the last day of this administration and then we certainly hope that, as in there's been in the past, there's a seamless handover with the next," he added. "And the next administration, whether it is run by President McCain or President Obama, will be able to then make any choices it wants, make any adjustments it wants, make any alterations it wants to current policies."
The Washington Post said the European plan is part of what it said was a relentless and reckless pursuit of missile defense by the Bush administration without regard for technological failures or mixed test results. It said it is time to stop what it termed a deploy-at-all costs crusade.