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US-Poland Missile Defense Talks to Continue


The State Department says efforts for a missile-defense agreement with Poland will continue despite an inconclusive meeting on the issue Monday between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski. Rice leaves on a European trip late Monday during which she signs a missile defense deal with the Czech Republic. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Bush administration officials concede they would have liked to have had a missile defense accord with Poland ready for signing during the four-day Rice trip to Europe.

But they say even though chances for that now appear almost nil, negotiations with the Warsaw government will continue.

The United States wants to base 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and an associated radar system in the Czech Republic to counter an anticipated long-range missile threat from Iran.

An agreement in principle with the Czech Republic was reached several weeks ago and Rice is scheduled to join in a signing ceremony Tuesday afternoon in Prague, first stop on a trip that will also take her to Bulgaria and Georgia.

Rice and the Polish foreign minister met behind closed doors Monday morning in a final bid to wrap up the negotiations before her trip.

Sikorski told reporters afterward some productive ideas were exchanged. He also said he was not in Washington to "salvage" the missile defense talks since the negotiations have been ongoing and will continue.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the Polish minister would also meet with chief U.S. arms negotiator John Rood and that the way to an agreement remains open:

"We are continuing to work on these negotiations," said Sean McCormack. "We didn't conclude them in time for the beginning of the secretary's travel. That doesn't mean we're not going to keep working on it. It's an important issue for Poland. It's an important issue for the United States, and it's an important issue for NATO as well NATO has given its endorsement of this missile defense effort so we're going to continue working on it."

The negotiations have been difficult, with Poland pushing for a costly U.S. upgrade of its air defense system as the price for accepting the interceptor missiles.

U.S. officials said last week a tentative accord had been struck but Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk later said the American offer on the table was unsatisfactory.

The missile defense plan is politically unpopular in Poland and the Czech Republic, while Russia has strongly opposed placement of the system in Europe, contending, despite U.S. denials, that it would undermine its strategic deterrent.

Majority Democrats in Congress have also been critical, accusing the Bush administration of trying to rush the deployment of unproven technology.

Recent legislation links funding of the program to Pentagon certification that missile interceptors have passed rigorous testing.

With an eye on U.S. politics, Foreign Minister Sikorski is to meet with Republican Presidential candidate John McCain in Washington and speak by telephone with Democratic candidate Barak Obama.

He said here Poland has "huge respect" for both candidates and has been an "excellent ally and friend" to U.S. administrations of both parties.
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