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US Still Confident of Polish Role in Missile-Defense Plan

The Bush administration said Monday it remains confident Poland will join the United States in a European missile-defense program, despite reservations expressed by the Polish foreign minister. The system is aimed at countering an Iranian missile program but Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski downplays any threat from Iran. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here say they're confident a deal will be struck for Polish participation on the missile defense plan, despite signs the new government in Warsaw is less supportive of the program than its predecessor.

The Bush administration proposes basing 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a related radar system in the Czech Republic to counter what it says is a looming threat to both Europe and the United States posed by an Iranian long-range missile program.

The previous Polish government had agreed in principle to join the program but the new government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk has sent mixed signals about it.

In weekend interview remarks with a major Polish newspape, Foreign Minister Sikorski said his country does not feel threatened by Iran and that not only the benefits, but also the risks, of taking part in the program have to be discussed.

Russia has strongly opposed the plan, contending it would undercut its strategic missile deterrent. Sikorski said Russian anger could be "expensive" for Poland at a time when it is trying to improve relations with Moscow.

Briefing reporters here, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich is due in Washington later this month for talks on the program and that U.S. officials remain confident Poland will participate.

McCormack said U.S. officials will be prepared to address all of Poland's concerns in good faith and said the missile threat from Iran is genuine:

"Certainly they are working towards a long-range missile capability," said Sean McCormack. "We all know that. We've seen the tests. The Iranian government has trumpeted the fact that they are working on that. So this is designed to address both current as well as future threats and I don't think that there's really any dispute about the kind of future threat that we face from Iran if it continues on the current pathway."

Iran has tested a medium range ballistic missile. But a U.S. congressional report last year said evidence that Iran aspires to an intercontinental missile capability is "scant and unconvincing," and there have been moves in Congress to block funding for the European project.

The Bush administration has held high-level talks with Moscow to try to allay Russian concerns about the program, saying that Moscow would be allowed to monitor use of the system which is to become operational in 2012.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned of a new European arms race if the plan goes forward, and last month suspended his country's participation in the 1990 treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe over the issue.

Polish Prime Minister Tusk said Monday his government sees no reason to rush a decision on the anti-missile program. The Polish leader is to discuss the issue during a visit to Moscow February 8, and is also expected to make his first visit to Washington as prime minister sometime early this year.