President Bush says the United States will help modernize the Polish military as part of a deal to put components of a missile defense system in Poland. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports the announcement came as the president completed talks at the White House with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
President Bush says he understands Poland's concerns, and agrees the Polish military must be upgraded if plans are to go forward for a missile defense system.
"It is important for our allies when they are worried about the modernization of their forces that friends respond and we are responding," said President Bush.
He told Poland's prime minister the first step will be to conduct a complete inventory of needs to make sure the modernization is done right.
"Mr. Prime Minister, before my watch is over we will have assessed those needs and come up with a modernization plan that is concrete and tangible," he said.
Poland has made military modernization a condition for participation in the missile shield program, which would put 10 missile interceptors on Polish soil. The missiles would guard against possible attacks by rogue nations.
Prime Minister Tusk said the United States can depend on Poland, and Poland can depend on the United States.
He said the most important things to come out of the White House meeting were a display of solidarity, and a joint realization that missile defense and military modernization must be part of one package. He stressed there should be no speculation about their intentions - a reference to Russian concerns about the missile defense system.
Russia has made no secret of the fact it opposes plans by the United States to build a missile defense system so close to its borders - with interceptors in Poland, and a radar facility in the Czech Republic. Once again - as he did following talks last week with the Czech prime minister - President Bush emphasized that Russia has nothing to fear.
"This system is not aimed at Russia, and I will continue to work with President Putin to give him those assurances, as well," said Mr. Bush. "This system is designed for the threats of the 21st century."
Poland says a modernization of its armed forces is urgently needed because of the possibility Russia may target it with nuclear weapons if the missile interceptors are installed.
Polish negotiators have asked for short-to-medium range air defenses and have identified 17 areas within the military the United States can help upgrade.
Negotiations are under way. And, while President Bush announced a formal assessment is being undertaken, he did not mention specific needs that will be addressed.