WARSAW, Poland - Washington has been talking with Lithuania about basing part of a missile defense system in that country in case negotiations with Poland break down, a top Polish diplomat said Wednesday.
Witold Waszczykowski - the chief Polish negotiator on missile defense with the United States - said American officials told him that Lithuanian authorities approached them to discuss the possibility of hosting such a site.
Waszczykowski, Poland's deputy foreign minister, told The Associated Press that the talks took place in mid-May in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.
However, Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas said that while American officials have visited Lithuania to speak about missile defense, there was no mention of moving part of the system from Poland to Lithuania.
In Washington on Tuesday, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell acknowledged that the U.S. has always kept other options in mind, and is aware of the need to have second and third possibilities.
But he denied there were active negotiations with Lithuania.
"We continue to have serious negotiations with Poland," Morrell said. "There are several other European nations that could host the interceptors and Lithuania is one of them. We have not entered into negotiations with any other country, and hope that that does not become necessary."
The U.S. has been in talks for more than a year with Poland and the Czech Republic to install parts of its global missile defense shield there, part of an overall plan to one day be able to stop possible missile attacks from Iran.
While Washington is near completion of a deal to install radar systems in the Czech Republic, talks with Poland on basing 10 missile interceptors there are bogged down over Polish demands for military aid. Overshadowing the talks has been Russia's strong opposition to seeing the U.S. military installations set up in its former sphere of influence.
Waszczykowski said that the Lithuanian deputy defense minister, Renatas Norkus, asked the United States to begin the talks and that chief American negotiator John Rood visited the Lithuanian capital in May to hold talks.
"We know that the Lithuanian deputy minister of defense asked them to start a discussion on missile defense and invited John Rood, the American negotiator, to Vilnius," Waszczykowski said. "And as far as I know, somewhere in the middle of May John Rood visited Vilnius to discuss missile defense."
He said that he believed the motivation was to have a backup plan in case Poland and the United States fail to reach a deal.
"In the case of Lithuania, the discussion is about interceptors because I don't think that the issue of the radar is threatened," Waszczykowski said.
© 2008 Associated Press