Friday, March 13, 2009

Poland hopes to complete U.S. shield talks in April

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland hopes to complete technical talks on stationing parts of a U.S. missile defence shield on its soil next month, the country's defence minister was quoted on Thursday as saying.

President Barack Obama's administration is reviewing U.S. security policy, including the shield plan, prompting speculation he might shelve a project that has irritated Moscow, with which Washington wants to mend ties.

NATO member Poland has said it still expects the project, designed to counter possible threats from what it calls rogue states such as Iran, to go ahead eventually after the review.

"We have had the penultimate round of talks (on technical issues) and I hope we will finalise negotiations in April," Defence Minister Bogdan Klich told the newspaper Rzeczpospolita in an interview.

Under the deal, agreed last year, Poland will host 10 ground-based interceptors. In return, Warsaw secured a U.S. promise that a Patriot missile battery would be stationed on its territory for a period before the end of 2009.

Warsaw sees the Patriot commitment as a symbolic security guarantee from its U.S. ally to counter an assertive Russia.

"I believe the Americans will stand behind their earlier declarations and that the Patriot rocket battery will come to Poland before the end of this year," Klich said.

U.S. and Polish diplomats say the Patriot deployment will go ahead independently of any decision on the missile shield.

Moscow sees the shield project as a threat to its security. Washington says it is aimed not against Russia but against Iran and possibly terrorist groups which might acquire weapons of mass destruction in the future.

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