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US,  New Polish Government to Move Forward on Missile Defense


Senior U.S. and Polish officials agreed during meetings in Washington Tuesday to work out their differences over a missile defense site the United States wants to build in Poland. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

When Poland's current leaders were running for office last year, they made some negative comments about the missile defense system that Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell says were "not helpful." Now, after two months in office and an analysis of the plan, Poland's defense minister came to the Pentagon for what Morrell calls a "frank but productive" meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

"We are trying to figure out how to work with them to continue to move forward on what we believe to be a program of vital importance not just for us, but really for Europe," said Geoff Morrell. "Putting these interceptors in Poland does far more to benefit Europe and our allies there than it does for us."

Morrell says U.S. officials will work to address Poland's concerns, but he would not say what those concerns are. At a separate news conference, the Polish Defense Minister, Bogdan Klich, said it is a matter of finding what he called "the right balance between the costs and the benefits" of the installation. Last week, Minister Klich was quoted as saying Poland wants to enhance its air defenses, perhaps with Patriot missiles. Morrell noted that the United States already provides Poland with considerable defense aid.

"They are the biggest beneficiary within Europe of defense aid," he said. "Nearly three quarters of a billion dollars, under the Bush Administration, has been provided to the Polish military in military aid. That far exceeds any other country in Europe. And because of that special relationship we believe that we can overcome whatever differences may exist on this issue very quickly."

The United States wants to build a missile site in Poland and a special radar installation in the Czech Republic as part of a European shield against medium range missiles that Iran is developing. But Russia sees the system as a potential threat to its security and has tried to convince all the countries involved not to build it.

During meetings at the Pentagon and the State Department Tuesday, Minister Klich says he found understanding for Poland's plan to withdraw its 900 troops from Iraq after five years of participation in the multi-national coalition. Poland also plans to add 400 troops to its contingent in Afghanistan, for a total of 1,600.