U.S. officials say there are no talks with Lithuania about hosting a
missile defense site, even though talks with Poland's new government
have been moving more slowly than the United States would like. But
the Pentagon spokesman says time is running out on the Bush
administration and officials might be forced to move to what he calls
"a backup option." VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
Pentagon and State Department spokesmen are disputing a statement
attributed to Poland's chief negotiator (Witold Waszczykowski) by the
Reuters News Service. The report says the United States has opened a
parallel set of talks with Lithuania in case the effort to negotiate
the placement of missile interceptors in Poland fails.
State Department Spokesman Tom Casey says recent meetings in Lithuania
were only "general conversations" about the missile defense system and
that the United States "expects and hopes" negotiations with Poland
will succeed. He described agreement as "very close."
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell put it this way.
think they want an agreement, but it's a question of what price," said
Geoff Morrell. "And that's what a negotiation is all about, and that's
what we're in the midst of right now."
U.S. officials say that
price includes a significant upgrade of Poland's air defense system
using the latest American military technology, which U.S. officials
have been reluctant to provide.
Morrell says Defense Secretary
Robert Gates met with his Polish counterpart in Brussels last week and
came away convinced that Poland does want an agreement. But Morrell
also raised the possibility the United States could look elsewhere if
the talks fail.
"We are hopeful that we can soon reach a deal
with the Poles, but we have always said that there are other options
available to us," he said. "There are several other European nations
that could host the interceptors, and Lithuania is one of them. That
said, we have not entered into negotiations with any other country, and
hope that that does not become necessary."
But the Pentagon
press secretary says "time is of the essence," in part because the Bush
Administration will leave office in January.
"We want to get a
deal done," said Morrell. "We believe it is imperative, given the
security threat that we believe is looming for Europe based upon the
Iranian missile threat, that we move on this as soon as possible. And
that is why we continue to aggressively pursue talks with the Poles.
But that is also why we do not close the door on perhaps having to
pursue a backup option."
Morrell would not say how long the
administration will let the talks with Poland continue. He says the
United States will not pursue other options as long as the Poland talks
are going well, which he says they are.
Morrell also says U.S.
officials expect to finalize an agreement for another missile defense
site in the Czech Republic next month. The United States wants to put
a sophisticated radar installation in the Czech Republic, and link it
to interceptor missile launch sites in Poland, or at an alternative
site if necessary.