WARSAW (Reuters) -- Poland and the United States have signed a deal that paves the way for the stationing of U.S. troops on the territory of its East European NATO ally.
The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), a technical document tentatively approved in November after 15 months of talks, also makes possible deployments of a U.S. Patriot missile battery in Poland next year as part of plans to upgrade its air defenses.
"This agreement is a good basis for cooperation between the U.S. and Polish armed forces in the future," Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich told reporters at the signing ceremony.
"For Poland, this signifies a strengthening of our national security."
Poland, perturbed by Russia's more assertive foreign policy, has long complained that it hosts no U.S. troops or major military installations 10 years after it joined NATO and despite a strong track record of sending troops to help in U.S.-led missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski noted that the SOFA deal was concluded just a week after Poland agreed to send 600 more troops to join its 2,000-strong contingent in Afghanistan after President Barack Obama's appeal to NATO allies for more help.
"This [deal] is a kind of symbol because in the past there were forces which were not welcome, stationed on Polish soil without our invitation. I'm talking about Germans or Russians," military analyst Roman Kuzniar told Reuters Television, referring to World War II and postwar Soviet domination.
Ellen Tauscher, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said Washington hoped to send U.S. forces to Poland as soon as it could, but gave no date.
The Patriot deal struck last year between Warsaw and the previous Bush administration and now backed by Obama envisages an armed Patriot battery being sent to Poland from Germany several times each year until 2012.
Polish officials say a battery would be permanently based in Poland from 2012 and that Warsaw would also aim to buy its own antimissile systems.