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Poland Says Hopes U.S. Will Not Let It Down On Shield

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski
BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- Poland said on March 22 it hoped the new U.S. administration would not abandon plans to station a missile-defense system on its territory.

President Barack Obama's administration is reviewing U.S. security policy, including the missile shield plan. This has prompted speculation he might shelve a project that has angered Moscow, with which Washington wants to mend ties.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said Poland had taken "something of a political risk" in signing an agreement with the Bush adminstration to host the system.

"When we started discussing this with the United States, the U.S. assured us they would persuade the Russians that it was purely defensive and it would be a noncontroversial decision," he told the annual Brussels Forum conference.

"We signed with the old administration; we patiently wait for the new administration, and we hope we don't regret our trust in the United States," he said, adding that Russia had continued to threaten to deploy missiles near Poland if the shield were deployed.

At the same event, U.S. Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, who is expected to be named the new U.S. under secretary for arms control and international security, said the missile system would not be deployed until it had been proven to work.

She said the current missile threat to deployed troops and southern Europe was from short and medium-range missiles, against which there was already a defense capability.

She said NATO needed to develop a short- to medium-range system, soemthing that could involve cooperation with Russia.

"We could certainly bolt on the long-range system once it has been tested and create a suite of systems that have complete coverage for everybody," she said.

NATO member Poland has said it expects the shield project, designed to counter possible threats from what Washington calls rogue states such as Iran, to go ahead eventually after the review and hopes to complete technical talks next month.

Under the deal agreed last year, Poland would host 10 ground-based interceptors, and in return Washington promised to station a Patriot missile battery on Polish territory for a period before the end of 2009.

Warsaw sees that as a symbolic security guarantee to counter an assertive Russia, and U.S. and Polish diplomats say this will go ahead independently of any decision on the missile shield.

Russia opposed NATO's admission of the three ex-communist countries in 1999 and is campaigning strongly against Georgia and Ukraine, former Soviet republics, being allowed to join an alliance that Russians still view with deep distrust.