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Poland: U.S. Urges Transparency In Arms Procurement

Warsaw, 21 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - Outgoing U. S. ambassador Nicholas Rey today said in Warsaw that transparency in military procurement is important for NATO membership prospects.

Speaking to a group of reporters at a farewell breakfast prior to his departure Sunday, Rey focused on a Polish-Israeli deal of arming the Polish Huzar attack helicopter with Israeli-made missiles.

Last week outgoing Minister of Economy Wieslaw Kaczmarek signed a letter of intent the Israeli firm, Elbit. Kaczmarek said it was the best deal because it provides a 100 percent offset of costs via Israeli imports, and permits Poland to use and export the acquired technology.

But today Rey said that the matter is not over yet. Rey further said it does not matter whether Poland will have Israeli or American missiles, but what matters is the transparency of the procurement process.

"I hope the process will be clarified and made transparent," he said.

In particular, Rey said that it was unclear why the Polish government spoke only to the Israeli Elbit company in 1996 but ignored a proposal of the U.S Boeing North America to arm the Huzar with the Hellfire missile still used by the U.S. and Israeli armies.

The Polish Defense Ministry got the Israeli offer on arming Huzar in 1994. The following year it sought, and eventually obtained, permission from the U. S. government to invite bidding from Rockwell, the makers of the Hellfire, as well. But the U.S. bid was rejected in March 1996 on grounds there was a delay in submitting it.

The problem became more complicated when the ministry gave preliminary approval to the Israeli NTD missile in April 1996. That was followed by a renewed invitation for Rockwell and Boeing NA, which heads the U.S. consortium, to resubmit its offer. This offer apparently was never considered seriously by the government.

Outgoing leftist Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said before the parliamentary elections that the government would decide about the Huzar case only after the ballot was decided. He subsequently promised that the outgoing government would refrain from any strategic decisions. The Huzar issue has been regarded as such.

But unexpectedly Cimoszewicz approved an agreement with the Israeli government in mid-September. The Israeli delegation came to visit Warsaw to clinch the deal in October. Outgoing Defense Minister Stanislaw Dobrzanski said he was not even informed about the visit of the Israeli delegation in Warsaw.

Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski, who had earlier written Cimoszewicz asking his government to refrain from making any binding decisions on the Huzar, said he considered the agreement invalid and added it will be scrutinized thoroughly because it may hurt Poland's NATO admission prospects.

The NTD missile has yet to be put into production. Some economic experts say that Poland should buy a product which is tested and from a country which has more influence in NATO, which Poland plans to join in 1999.

A Western diplomat said opponents of NATO enlargement in the United States may use the Huzar case against Poland, arguing that Washington may not need a partner as an ally which is using unclear procurement procedures.