• Photos from Greece

    Events of Press Office

    Click to go to Events of Press Offce site

Poland Signals Doubts About Planned U.S. Missile-Defense Bases on Its Territory

New York Times / By JUDY DEMPSEY / Published: January 7, 2008

BERLIN — Signaling a tougher position in negotiations with the United States on a European antiballistic-missile shield system, Poland’s foreign minister says his country’s new government is not prepared to accept American plans to deploy missile-defense bases in Poland until all costs and risks are considered.“This is an American, not a Polish project,” Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said in an interview published in the weekend edition of the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.The previous Polish government had consented in principle to accept missile-interceptor bases as part of a larger system that would include a radar station in the Czech Republic, but no formal agreement has been signed. Now Mr. Sikorski is saying that the terms under which the shield would be deployed were unclear and that the new government wants the risks to be explained, the financial costs to be set out and clarification on how Poland’s interests would be defended if the bases were put on its territory.“We feel no threat from Iran,” he said, challenging Bush administration assertions that some of the biggest threats facing the security of Europe and the United States are from “rogue states” in the Middle East.Still, Mr. Sikorski said, “if an important ally such as the United States has a request of such an important nature, we take it very seriously.”He added: “It is not only the benefits but the risks of the system that have to be discussed fully. It cannot be that we alone carry the costs.”There was no official response from the United States. Bogdan Klich, Poland’s new defense minister, is expected to make his first official visit to Washington this month to explain his government’s position.NATO said Sunday that the missile defense issue was essentially a discussion for Poland, the United States and Russia. “NATO is happy to be a forum for discussion, and it is a useful one,” said James Appathurai, a spokesman for the alliance. “But it does not substitute for the bilateral track.”Mr. Sikorski also said he was worried that the United States might abandon the project after the American presidential election in November. In that case, Poland would nevertheless have to bear political costs, like the deterioration of relations with Russia, if it signed on to the shield prematurely.The deployment of the missile defense system has become such a contentious issue between the United States and Russia — and also between Poland and Russia — that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has warned of a new arms race if Washington proceeds with the plan in Poland and the Czech Republic.Having accused Washington of threatening Russia’s national security interests, Mr. Putin last month suspended his nation’s participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.Under that treaty, one of the last major arms pacts between the former cold war foes, countries stretching from Canada across Europe to the eastern parts of the former Soviet Union cut their conventional forces and agreed to on-site inspections and an elaborate system of verification and notifications. It took effect in 1992.The Kremlin did not say how long it would suspend its participation. But Russian diplomats said it depended on not only what kind of concessions the United States was prepared to make concerning changes to the treaty, but also on whether Poland and the Czech Republic would deploy components of the American antimissile system. The approach on missile defense taken by Poland’s new center-right coalition government, under Prime Minister Donald Tusk, reflects a different negotiating strategy from that of the previous nationalist-conservative government led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski.Mr. Kaczynski, who was much more pro-American, agreed in principle to deploy several interceptors on Polish territory without going into detail over the costs, the maintenance and the risks to Poland’s security, according to Polish officials.The former prime minister did little to allay Russia’s fears about deploying the missile shield in Poland, or to drum up support in other European Union member states. He left it up to the United States to explain the issue to the Kremlin and to European governments.In contrast, Mr. Tusk and Mr. Sikorski, while certainly aware of Mr. Putin’s growing assertiveness in international affairs, have repeatedly said they want to improve relations with Russia.