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Poland Seeks To Reassure Russia On Missile Defense

Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski

Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Poland will shortly offer new confidence-building proposals to Russia on the U.S. antimissile system planned for Eastern Europe, Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski has said.

While Poland would like to go ahead with the missile-defense plan, the project's fate will ultimately depend on the new administration of President-elect Barack Obama, Sikorski said in a speech in Washington.

"It's really up to the U.S. to make up its own mind. And that's why we will tread carefully here, and wait until the new administration makes its assessment," Sikorski said at the Atlantic Council.

The outgoing Bush administration wants to install a missile shield consisting of 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic, a plan Moscow sees as an act of aggression against Russia.

Obama has supported work on a system to protect the United States and its allies from missile attacks, but says it must be "pragmatic and cost-effective" and cannot divert resources from other priorities until its technologies are proven.

U.S. officials have been trying to convince the Kremlin the project is not aimed at the formidable Russian nuclear arsenal, but at the possibility a "rogue" state like Iran might someday fire a missile at the West.

'Confidence-Building Measures'

Last week, the Kremlin rejected U.S. suggestions aimed at easing Moscow's concerns, but Sikorski said another effort would be made.

"We will shortly put forward written proposals for confidence-building measures related to missile defense, on the basis of transparency and reciprocity," he said.

The proposals would involve technical monitoring and inspection rights, but would stop short of having Russians stationed permanently at the site in Poland, he said.

"We would like Russia to have the confidence that whatever we declare might happen in those facilities, is indeed the case," he said.

Sikorski, who sees Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on November 20, said he would also meet some prominent Democrats in Washington, but did not provide names. Obama has not yet named cabinet members who will deal with foreign policy and defense.

Sikorski said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev erred when he threatened, just after Obama's election, to deploy missiles near Poland in response to U.S. missile-defense plans.

"Perhaps it's a kind of psychological testing of the new [Obama] administration," he said.

He compared Russian power to a glacier sometimes advancing, sometimes retreating over Eastern Europe, and said Russia recently had "step by step" tried to undermine the cornerstones of European security.

In the aftermath of Russia's August military intervention in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, NATO needed to have a debate about its own collective defense abilities, Sikorski said. "We need to make the NATO guarantee credible again."