The United States and Poland Saturday signed an amended agreement under which U.S. missile interceptors, aimed against a developing Iranian threat, will be based on Polish soil. Secretary of State Clinton said the revised program will make a system operational sooner than one promoted by the Bush administration, and will pose no threat to Russia.
The Obama administration shelved a European missile defense plan devised by its predecessor that would have stationed missile interceptors, still under development, in Poland and a related radar system in the Czech Republic.
The amended agreement, signed in Krakow in an event witnessed by Secretary Clinton and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, will include the basing in Poland of U.S. "Standard-Three" interceptor missiles, a system already deployed on U.S. Navy ships and readily adaptable to ground basing.
Polish authorities were widely reported to have been unhappy with the withdrawal of the Bush administration plan, which had caused friction in Poland's relationship with Russia.
But at a press event Clinton after the signing ceremony, Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski said Warsaw is pleased with the amended plan.
"When President Obama announced the new configuration of the system, we did say that we liked the new configuration better. But I think you didn't believed us. Well, I hope now that we have signed the annex, I hope you do believe us, because it's based on existing technology and therefore it's more likely to be built and to be effective. And it is capable of protecting NATO, and Poland, and the United States of course, from a bigger range of threats," said Sikorski.
Clinton said the revised program will be operational years sooner than the one envisioned by the Bush administration, and unlike the predecessor has been fully embraced by NATO allies.
On continued Russian objections to U.S. missile defense in Europe on grounds it undermines Moscow's strategic deterrence, Clinton said it is purely defensive and is neither directed against nor threatens Russia.
She said the United States hopes Moscow will eventually take part in a regional defense against what she termed a "common threat" posed by Iran, but said Russia to date has refused to cooperate.
"Russia has not accepted that offer but the offer stands. And the United States is beginning discussions with Russia to explore whether there are any circumstances the United States and Russia could work together on radar development and deployment, or any other aspect of missile defense. We welcome that. We've encouraged that. Thus far there has not been a willingness by Russia to respond positively. But the door is open," she said.
Clinton, on a five-nation trip to central Europe and the Caucasus region, attended events here marking the tenth anniversary of the Community of Democracies, a U.S.-Polish initiative.
In a policy speech, she stressed the importance of civil society and non-governmental organizations to democratic development. Clinton warned of what she termed a "steel vice" of restrictions against NGO's by some 50 countries around the world, including Zimbabwe, Cuba, Venezuela, Ethiopia and Belarus.
She completes the current trip with stops in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia.