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Poland, U.S. 'Draw Closer' On Missile-Defense Plan

WARSAW -- Poland and the United States have made some progress in their efforts to forge a deal on stationing part of an missile-defense shield on Polish soil, a Foreign Ministry spokesman has said.

"The two sides have said they are drawing closer," spokesman Piotr Paszkowski said after Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski held talks with U.S. Assistant Undersecretary of State Dan Fried.

Paszkowski said he could not comment on the details of the talks but added Polish and U.S. officials would hold a further round of technical discussions in Warsaw on July 23.

The Bush administration wants to install 10 interceptor missiles in Poland as part of its shield project that aims to protect the United States and its European allies against possible attack by what Washington calls "rogue states."

Russia is fiercely opposed to the project and has said it will point missiles at Poland and the Czech Republic -- both NATO allies -- if the deployment goes ahead.

In return for the shield project, Warsaw has asked for hefty U.S. investments in upgrading its antiquated air defenses. Poland recently turned down a U.S. offer to site a Patriot battery on its soil for one year as insufficient, saying it needed a permanent commitment.

"The talks are still ongoing. Anything is possible. There is an equal chance of reaching a deal now or with the next U.S. administration," one Polish diplomat told Reuters last week.

The Bush administration leaves office in January. Some Polish media have speculated Poland's center-right government is playing for time and prefers to reach a deal on the shield with the new president.

Washington says Iran's recent test-firing of medium-range missiles underlines the importance of the proposed shield. It has already signed an accord with the Czech Republic on setting up a tracking radar there as part of the shield project.

"Given that missile defense is not neutral for Polish interests because it will antagonize our large eastern neighbor, Poland is entitled to ask for something in return for hosting the interceptors," the Polish diplomat said.