The Polish government has signed a deal to host U.S. missiles to complete an antimissile shield the United States says will protect it and Europe from attacks by rogue states.
Under the deal signed in Warsaw on August 14, the United States would base 10 interceptor missiles at a site along Poland's Baltic Sea coast.
The site, manned by U.S. forces, would complement a U.S. radar installation to be based farther south in the Czech Republic.
Washington says those facilities, to be operational by 2013, would complete an antimissile system already in place in the United States, Greenland, and Britain.
All that, Washington and NATO say, is to protect North America and Europe against missile attacks from rogue states, particularly North Korea and Iran. Both countries are making fast progress building longer-range missiles.
But extending the missile shield into Europe has not been easy for Washington. The shield is strongly opposed by Moscow, which says it is not intended to defend against rogue states but to alter the balance of power in Europe.
And, against that backdrop, Warsaw has bargained hard for substantial U.S. military aid to offset what it says is an increased security risk to Poland should it host the U.S. base.
The chief U.S. negotiator, Undersecretary of State John Rood, alluded to the hard bargaining as he announced the deal.
"While there have naturally been ups and downs throughout that entire process, I have been gratified that both delegations, that is to say, have approached this in the spirit of trying to do something that is important for both countries securities and as allies and friends," Rood said.
Poland has demanded extra security in the form of antimissile missiles for its own army and generous U.S. military aid to modernize its forces. While the exact amount of aid Warsaw will now receive was not revealed, Polish officials said they were pleased they will now get their own missile-defense capabilities.
"So, we will have in Poland, not one American garrison, but two American garrisons," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said. "We will have one base used to protect the whole of NATO against long-range ballistic missiles, and we will also have a battery of 96 Patriot missiles located in a spot chosen by Poland according to our defense needs."
Reuters quoted Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk as saying: "we would start with a battery under U.S. command, but made available to the Polish Army. Then there would be a second phase, involving equipping the Polish Army with missiles."
The deal has drawn immediate criticism from Moscow.
A top Russian general said in Moscow that the deal for the United States to put a missile defense battery in Poland "cannot go unpunished" in the event it were to be used in any military conflict with Russia.
"When one party agrees to host [a foreign facility], of course, it assumes certain responsibilities. And we're talking about a military facility in this case, so there is additional [responsibility]," said General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the Russian General staff. "Certainly, any facility is the target -- excuse me, I mean the subject of the interests of another country. So, of course, one has to be careful with that. A bordering country always makes it its priority to strike such installations [in case of conflict]. So, it is not simply -- it cannot go unpunished from the point of view of [its] military use and so on."
Russia has previously said it could aim missiles at any sites where missile-defense elements are deployed in Europe.
The deal is almost certain to ratchet up U.S.-Russian tensions. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said last month that "these installations...only worsen the situation. We will be forced to respond adequately." That was before the current crisis over Georgia, which has strained Russian-Western ties further.
A bordering country always makes it its priority to strike such installations [in case of conflict]. So...it cannot go unpunished from the point of view of [its] military use and so on."
Polish and U.S. officials have refused to say whether the Georgia crisis helped to spur the signing of the deal.
Sikorski said on August 14 that the Georgia crisis showed "we're facing a new international situation. The situation does not change our arguments but in my view reinforces them."
But he also said that the upcoming U.S. presidential election was a more significant factor. The missile shield is strongly backed by U.S. President George W. Bush, who will leave office in January.
U.S. Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters in Washington that "I have no indication that Russia's invasion of Georgia influenced the negotiations, but who knows? You can draw you own conclusions."
Both Washington's deal with the Polish government and with the Czech government, which last month agreed to host the radar site, have to be ratified by those countries' parliaments. Until now, public opinion in both countries has run against the missile shield.
Something to watch now will be whether the events in Georgia make parliamentary approval easier.
compiled from news agencies