Polish PM, Bush to Discuss Missile Defense

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk is hoping talks Monday with President Bush will help break an impasse on allowing U.S. missile defense interceptors to be based on Polish soil.

The two leaders also are likely to discuss NATO's operations in Afghanistan, since Poland is set to expand its contribution to the force.

The two countries have been negotiating Polish demands for help in upgrading its military in exchange for allowing the missile defense interceptors, although it was not expected that the two leaders would reach a deal in the White House meeting. Negotiators appear hung up over how specific the U.S. promises would be to help upgrade Poland's military.

The United States opened the negotiations last year with the government of previous Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who strongly supported the U.S. proposal. Tusk's government has sought more in return.

Polish officials have said they are looking for help to acquire air defenses against short- to medium-range missiles. Negotiators have asked for Patriot 3 or THAAD missiles and have identified 17 areas of the Polish military that the United States could help modernize. Interceptors for the planned U.S. shield are for protection against long-range missiles.

The Polish government argues that the security backing is necessary because Russia has threatened to target Poland with nuclear missiles if it should allow the interceptors. Tusk and Bush are very likely to discuss Russian relations, because Tusk met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last month, the first visit by a Polish prime minister since 2001.

The U.S. missile defense plans have become one of the thorniest issues in U.S.-Russian relations. Russia opposes the U.S. plan to build part of its global missile defense system so close to Russian borders, arguing it would undermine the Russian deterrent. The United States says the system is aimed at countering a threat from Iran or North Korea and would be impotent against Russia's massive arsenal.

U.S. negotiators, led by acting Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Mull, have tried to seal the deal with Poland by opening a separate negotiating track on the Polish demands. They have sought to leave promises vague.

"In the final analysis, I assure you that Poland will be able to count on America's continuing strong and substantial support for years to come as it improves its capabilities to defend against our common threats," Mull said in a statement after a round of negotiations in Warsaw late last month.

The two sides have said they would like to complete a deal before the Bush administration leaves office in January. Tusk said in remarks published Friday that the U.S. administration has now asked for six months to prepare an offer on the military aid.

Bush and Tusk are likely to discuss next month's NATO summit in Bucharest, where calls for European countries to strengthen the alliance's mission in Afghanistan are expected to be a focus.

Poland is expected to boost its contribution of troops to the mission from 1,200 to 1,600 in April and send much-needed helicopters.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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