Obama vows to go ahead with missile shield: Polish president


Agence France-Presse
Published: Saturday November 8, 2008

WARSAW (AFP) — US president-elect Barack Obama has told Polish President Lech Kaczynski he will go ahead with plans to build a missile defence shield in eastern Europe despite threats from Russia, Warsaw said on Saturday.

"Barack Obama has underlined the importance of the strategic partnership between Poland and the United States, he expressed his hope of continuing the political and military cooperation between our two countries.

"He also said the anti-missile shield project would go ahead," said a statement issued by Kaczynski after the two men spoke by telephone.

Warsaw and Washington signed a deal on August 14 to base part of a US missile shield in Poland, amid Moscow's vehement opposition and mounting East-West tensions over Georgia.

The US wants to base 10 interceptor missiles in Poland plus a radar facility in the neighbouring Czech Republic by 2011-2013 to complete a system already in place in the United States, Greenland and Britain.

Washington says the shield -- endorsed by NATO in February -- is aimed at fending off potential attacks by so-called "rogue states" such as Iran, and is in no way aimed at Russia.

The United States warns that Iran could develop long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads by 2015-2017.

The plan has enraged Moscow, master of Poland and the then Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. Both countries broke from the crumbling communist bloc in 1989, joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004.

Regarding them as a grave security threat, the Kremlin has threatened to aim its own missiles at the planned US installations.

Just hours after Obama's victory speech, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow would station short-range missile systems in its Kaliningrad enclave wedged between Poland and fellow EU member Lithuania.

US negotiator John Rood said Thursday that Washington had given Russia fresh proposals to try to ease its concerns and hoped the row could still be resolved.

He said the offer was sent "earlier this week," before Medvedev announced his plans to deploy missiles in Kaliningrad.

Medvedev's remarks on Wednesday amounted to a warning shot to Obama and Washington's allies in central Europe.

Rood, the US under secretary for arms control and international security, said the proposals submitted to Russia built on previous ones that would allow Russian authorities access to the missile shield sites.

"We've elaborated on our previous proposals," Rood told reporters without going into detail.

Rood planned to meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Ryabkov in the coming weeks, probably in Moscow, to discuss the proposals as well as other issues, including cooperation on avoiding nuclear terrorism.

He said he was still optimistic about a solution despite Medvedev's threat to deploy missiles, which he called "disappointing" and "unwelcome."

The European Union and NATO also expressed strong concern over Russia's decision to deploy missiles on the EU's doorstep.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier for his part urged Obama to discuss the missile shield plan with the Russians.

"I expect Obama to seek such a dialogue," he told the daily Hamburger Abendblatt. "I expect the Russian government likewise to approach the Russians and Americans."

Condemning Medvedev's announcement, he said Russia had sent "the wrong signal at the wrong time," with the arrival of "a new US president speaking of a new departure and new partnerships."

Polish lawmakers have yet to ratify the US missile defence deal while the Czech government has called for a delay in a final vote on its radar agreements until the inauguration of President George W. Bush's successor in January.

"We want a delay to make sure about the attitude of the new American administration," Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said last month.

There had been suggestions that Obama could be less enthusiastic for the shield than his Republican rival for the presidency John McCain.