US, Poland Reach Tentative Pact On Missile Shield
WASHINGTON - The United States and Poland reached a tentative pact Wednesday on a controversial missile defense shield, part of which Washington wants to site in the former communist country, a senior State Department official said.
"At this point, I am really happy that we made real good progress in the past few days," said the official who asked not to be named, adding that a "tentative agreement" had been reached after two days of talks between Polish and US officials.
The United States wants to base 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar facility in the neighboring Czech Republic to ward off potential attacks by so-called "rogue" states, notably Iran.
The agreement, of which no details were given, was the result of talks in Washington between US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Rood and two high-ranking officials from the Polish defense and foreign ministries.
Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried, a former ambassador to Poland, said the talks had made real progress but refused to confirm that an agreement had been reached.
"We are satisfied with the way things are going but I don't yet have a bottom line," he said.
"I want to be very careful. We are very satisfied with the way we left things and we want to hear the next words, the next stages, from Warsaw," Fried said.
In the Polish capital, foreign ministry spokesman Piotr Paszkowski said the ministry could not confirm that the two sides had reached an accord, and said the decision on the Polish side rests with Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
Washington and Warsaw began talks about Poland housing missiles for the defense shield in May last year, but the negotiations have been slowed by demands from Poland for substantial aid to modernize its armed forces.
A deal under which the Czech Republic would house the missile shield's radar base was concluded in April.
Russia is opposed to having the US missile shield on its doorstep, and public opinion in Poland and the Czech Republic is generally opposed to the defensive system.
The shield would complete a broader US system already in place in the United States, Greenland and Britain.
Designed as a defense against ballistic, or intercontinental, missiles that can fly more than 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers), the shield includes a ground component of 12 missile interceptors in Alaska and three others in California.
The Missile Defense Agency is developing an orbital surveillance system to track missiles and allow ground-based interceptors to shoot them down.
Outside the United States, radar bases have been set up in Fylingdales in Britain, and Thule in Greenland, which is Danish territory.
The interceptors, to be set up in an area the size of a football field, would destroy their targets at extremely high altitude through sheer speed and carry no explosive warhead, US experts have said.
Washington has said it expects the system up and running by 2013, with costs for the European extensions ranging from 1.6 billion to 2.5 billion dollars.
© 2008 Agence France Presse