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U.S. Asks Poland For More Time On Missile Defense

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the North Atlantic Council and Non-NATO ISAF contributors meeting in Krakow on February 19.
KRAKOW (Reuters) -- The United States has told Poland it needs more time to complete a review of the missile-defense project before it can decide whether to press ahead with the controversial plan.

The Obama administration has signaled it may slow plans to deploy elements of a missile-defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic as part of a drive to improve frosty ties with Russia, whose cooperation Washington needs in confronting Iran.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates discussed the missile-shield issue with his Polish counterpart, Bogdan Klich, during a meeting of NATO defense ministers in the Polish city of Krakow on February 19.

"The fact is that between the economic crisis, Afghanistan, and Iraq, the administration has not yet reviewed where it is on a whole range of issues, including relationships with our allies, the missile-defense program, the relationship with the Russians," Gates told reporters. "These things are all in many respects tied together including Iran.... We're just asking...that they [the Poles] just have to give us a little time to review these things."

The shield plans, championed by the previous U.S. administration, have contributed to a big chill in U.S.-Russian relations over the past few years.

Russia regards the project as a threat to its national security and is pressing President Barack Obama to give ground on the missile shield in exchange for Moscow helping supply the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan.

The United States insists the missile-defense shield is aimed not at Russia but at possible attacks by terrorist organisations or what it calls rogue states, particularly Iran.

Poland and the Czech Republic, rattled by Russia's more assertive diplomacy, want closer security ties with Washington.

One Polish diplomat told Reuters on February 19: "Gates' people told me there was no change in the [missile-defense] project, so we should not get nervous... There are no reasons to worry."