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Poland wants US pact in exchange for missile silos

Written by: Staff
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WASHINGTON, Sep 14 (Reuters) Poland wants a bilateral pact and improved air defenses as part of any deal to become the first ballistic missile-defense hub outside of the United States, its defense minister said.

There would be ''downside'' to hosting such a facility, Radoslaw Sikorski yesterday told a forum during a visit to the United States by Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

The United States is seeking to put up to 10 interceptor missiles in underground silos in Poland or the Czech Republic to shoot down long-range missiles that could be launched from Iran. An advanced ''X-band'' radar for missile tracking could be located with the interceptors or at another site.

European silos would complement missile interceptor installations at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force, California. Those sites, part of an emerging ground-based shield put together by Boeing Co, are meant to protect against warheads that could be fired by North Korea.

Sikorski said Poland had to be persuaded that the benefits of hosting any such missile-defense site outweighed potential risks such as becoming more of a target.

With the US deputy secretary of defense, Gordon England, at his side, he added: ''I would need to go in front of parliament and say, well, why overall it's a good package.'' The package would have to include a bilateral security agreement as well as help with Poland's air defenses, Sikorski told the session hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a private research group.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hosted lunch for Kaczynski at the State Department, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. He later met President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney later in the day.

England, asked about a possible bilateral defense agreement with Poland, said it depended on the outcome of discussions on where to put missile interceptors in Europe.

''We'll see ... how that comes out. Then we'll take the next step and decide what we can do,'' he said. ''Depends on where it is, etc.'' The United States has favored multilateral defense pacts in recent decades, though it maintains a few bilateral treaties, including with Japan and South Korea.

The talk of a bilateral defense agreement ''could raise the stakes in negotiations for missile defense sites in Europe,'' said Michael Wyganowski, executive director of the Center for European Policy Analysis, a private research group in Washington.

But James Townsend, a former principal director for European and NATO policy at the Pentagon, said a final agreement was unlikely any time soon.

''It's going to be a dance that's going to take a while between the United States and whoever our partners will be in this, said Townsend, now of the Atlantic Council, another research group.

REUTERS DKA MIR KP1117

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