Poland, US sign missile shield pact (Lead)August 20th, 2008 - 7:36 pm ICT by IANS
Warsaw, Aug 20 (DPA) Poland and the US Wednesday sealed a deal to set up a missile defence base on Polish soil.The agreement, signed in Warsaw by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, will station 10 US missile interceptors as well as Patriot air defence missiles in Poland.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski alluded to more than a year of tough bargaining, which saw Poland press hard for US military aid and a special pledge of military cooperation contained in the final deal.
“We’ve got a good agreement. There were tensions. They are behind us. The strategic aim is achieved,” Kaczynski said at the signing ceremony.
The Czech government agreed in July to host the other part of the system, a tracking radar to be placed near the German border. Parliaments in both countries have yet to approve the deals.
Russia has fiercely opposed the planned shield, despite repeated US assurances that it is meant to defend against missile threats from “rogue nations” like Iran, not Moscow’s strategic nuclear arsenal.
Moscow has said it would target its two former satellites if the system, which the Pentagon expects to have in full operation by 2013, goes ahead.
The timing of last week’s US-Polish accord has fuelled speculation that Russia’s invasion of Georgia spurred Poland to close the deal after some 18 months of hard bargaining. US and Polish diplomats have denied a link.
At the signing ceremony, Rice insisted that the missile shield would be purely defensive - a renewed attempt to persuade Moscow that it’s not aimed against Russia.
“Missile defence, of course, is aimed at no one,” she said. “This is a very special day.”
Earlier, Rice said the missile shield strengthens strategic cooperation with Poland, a former Soviet-bloc nation that was among the first to join NATO after the Cold War ended.
“We’re talking about a missile defense system that couldn’t possibly be aimed at the Russian nuclear deterrent,” she told the BBC Tuesday. “Russia has thousands of nuclear warheads. This is for small missile attacks of the kind that Iran might launch.”
Kaczynski called the signing an “important day” in Polish history during a televised address to the nation Tuesday night.
Poland had taken a step to “strengthen its position in the world” by sealing an agreement with Washington, he said.
Poland agreed last Thursday to host part of the US missile shield in return for military aid that includes a battery of Patriot air defence missiles.
The US plan has been unpopular in both countries, but a recent poll showed Polish opinion had swung in favour of the shield in the wake of the fighting over South Ossetia between Russia and Georgia.
Many Poles view Russia’s military incursion into Georgia as proof that Poland needs a strong defence.