The top U.S. military officer told Polish officials in Warsaw Monday the Obama Administration has still not decided whether to proceed with the Bush Administration's plan to build a missile defense installation in Poland and the Czech Republic. But Admiral Mike Mullen says the U.S. government is still concerned about the growing missile threat from Iran, and wants to work with its allies in the region to address it.
At a news conference with his Polish counterpart, General Franciszek Gagor, Admiral Mullen expressed concern about what U.S. officials see as the growing missile threat from Iran, but he said the Obama Administration has not yet decided how to address the threat.
"It is clearly the strategic intent of Iran to continue to develop these missiles. They are now on the edge of being able to project that capability to Europe," he said. "And, the longer-term expectation right now, from the United States' perspective, is that eventually that capability will also be projected as far away as the United States. So working with our partners in this regard is very important."
The Bush Administration plan called for the installation of 10 anti-missile missiles in Poland, linked to a sophisticated radar that would be built in the Czech Republic. Admiral Mullen says just how the new U.S. administration will work with its partners on missile defense is still under review.
"The United States is committed to the relationship with Poland and certainly, supporting modernization of the Polish military," he added. "And, how missile defense fits in all that, and what the specifics will be in terms of the position of the United States will be very much tied to the results of the current review."
That review appears to be, in part, awaiting the outcome of next week's U.S.-Russian summit in Moscow, where missile defense and strategic arms reductions will be high on the agenda. Russian President Dimitry Medvedev has said there will be no progress on strategic arms unless the United States abandons the European missile defense plan, which Russia sees as a threat. U.S. officials say the program would not threaten Russia and is only designed to address Iran's capabilities.
Admiral Mullen came here to Warsaw from Moscow, where he helped lay the groundwork for the summit. Russia announced during the visit that at the summit an agreement to resume and increase U.S.-Russian military cooperation will be signed. That would officially end the freeze that followed the Russian invasion of Georgia last year. NATO also decided last week to resume its military relationship with Russia.
Poland's chief of General Staff, General Gagor, told American reporters before his meeting with the admiral that Poland understands the need for the resumption of Russo-American military ties. General Gagor says many Poles are concerned about traditional threats to their security, such as Russia, but need to also be concerned about modern threats, such as cyber attacks and terrorism. And he says, whatever the outcome of the Obama Administration's review, Europe needs some sort of missile defense.
"I'd say it's a question of time that this technology will be used at longer ranges. So we have to be prepared. We have to have ways to provide protection for NATO countries," said General Gagor. "And, building missile defense capabilities, in general, is a necessity."
General Gagor says he expects Polish and U.S. officials to reach agreement soon to allow for the deployment of a Patriot missile battery in Poland, along with a small number of American military trainers. The Patriot system can defend against short-range missiles, but not against a missile on a high trajectory, which an Iranian launch on Europe would be.