Poland signals a shift on U.S. missile shield
Signaling a tougher position in negotiations with the United States on a European anti-ballistic missile shield, Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski says the new Warsaw government is not prepared to accept U.S. plans to deploy part of the shield in Poland until all costs and risks are considered. "This is an American, not a Polish project," Sikorski said in an interview published in the weekend edition of the daily Gazeta Wyborcza. The previous Polish government had consented in principle to accept parts of the U.S. shield, but no formal agreement has been signed. Now Sikorski is saying that the terms under which the shield would be deployed were unclear and that the new government wanted the risks to be explained, the financial costs to be set out and clarification on how Poland's interests would be defended if the shield were deployed on its territory. "We feel no threat from Iran," Sikorski said, challenging the U.S view that some of the biggest threats facing the security of Europe and the United States are from "rogue states" in the Middle East, including Iran. Still, Sikorski said, "if an important ally such as the United States has a request of such an important nature, we take it very seriously."
He added: "It is not only the benefits but the risks of the system that have to be discussed fully. It cannot be that we alone carry the costs." There was no official response from the United States. Bogdan Klich, Poland's new defense minister, is expected to make his first official visit to Washington this month to explain his government's position. NATO, the U.S.-led military alliance, said Sunday that the missile defense issue was essentially a bilateral discussion between Poland, the United States and Russia. "NATO is happy to be a forum for discussion, and it is a useful one," said James Appathurai, a spokesman for the alliance. "But it does not substitute for the bilateral track."
Sikorski also said he was worried that the United States could abandon the project after the American presidential election in November. In that case, Poland would nevertheless have to bear political costs, like the deterioration of relations with Russia, if it signed on to the shield prematurely. The deployment of the U.S. missile shield has become such a contentious issue between the United States and Russia - and indeed between Poland and Russia - that President Vladimir Putin of Russia has warned of a new arms race if Washington proceeds with deployment in Poland and the Czech Republic. Having accused Washington of threatening Russia's national security interests, Putin last month suspended his nation's participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.
Under that treaty, one of the last major arms pacts concluded between the former Cold War foes, countries stretching from Canada across Europe to the eastern parts of Russia cut their conventional forces and agreed to on- site inspections and an elaborate system of verification and notifications. It was implemented in 1992. The Kremlin did not say how long it would suspend its participation. But Russian diplomats said it depended on not only what kind of concessions the United States was prepared to make concerning changes to the treaty, but also whether Poland and the Czech Republic would deploy part of the U.S. missile shield. The new approach on missile defense taken by Poland's new center-right coalition government, under Prime Minister Donald Tusk, reflects a different negotiating strategy from the previous nationalist-conservative government led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
Kaczynski, who was much more pro- American, had in principle agreed to deploy several interceptors on Polish territory without going into detail over the costs, the maintenance and the risks to Poland's security, according to Polish officials. But the former prime minister did little to allay Russia's fears about deploying the missile shield in Poland, or to drum up support in other European Union member states. He left it up to the United States to explain the issue to the Kremlin and to European governments. In contrast, Tusk and Sikorski, while having no illusions about Russia's new self-confidence under Putin, have nevertheless repeatedly said they want to improve relations with Russia. Later this month, Poland and Russia for the first time will hold direct talks in Warsaw over the missile shield. The Russian side will be led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kisliak.
Sikorski, who was defense minister in the Kaczynski government, had been forced to resign early last year after criticizing, among other things, the government's handling of the missile defense negotiations. He later joined Tusk's Civic Platform party and was appointed foreign minister last month. Sikorski, then and now, has insisted that Poland will need additional security protection from the United States, for example in the form of Patriot missiles, if it accepts the interceptors. NATO could also be called upon. Alliance diplomats said Poland would insist on a guarantee from NATO if the missile defense system became part of the alliance's own anti-ballistic missile system. This means that if Poland were threatened with attack or came under attack, the NATO alliance would be obliged to come to its assistance.
Poland's prime minister to make first visit to Russia next month
Poland's new Prime Minister Donald Tusk will make his first visit to Moscow next month, part of a push by his new liberal government to mend relations which suffered over the last two years. "My visit to Moscow will take place February 8," Tusk told journalists in Warsaw on Wednesday. Poland's previous conservative-nationalist prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski remained suspicious of his country's Soviet-era master, accusing Russia of still trying to exert influence in Eastern Europe. During two years of Kaczynski rule, bilateral relations with Moscow deteriorated to their lowest ebb since Poland shed communism in 1989.
In the wake of their October 2007 parliamentary election victory, Tusk's liberals have made a point of mending tattered ties with neighbours Russia and Germany. Talks between Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on December 7 in Brussels kicked off the drive to normalise relations. In a goodwill gesture, Poland later lifted its opposition to Russia beginning membership talks with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Russia consequently removed an import ban on Polish meat exports imposed over alleged hygiene irregularities. A separate Russian embargo on Polish plant products remains in place. Tusk has insisted it should be lifted ahead of his arrival in Moscow. Russia and the EU's executive European Commission are also keen to see Poland lift its veto on the start of talks on a new EU-Russia agreement. Poland's previous Kaczynski government imposed the veto in November 2006 to protest Moscow's ban on Polish meat, a move Warsaw argued violated existing EU-Russia trade agreements.
Both Moscow and Warsaw must also address Russia's objection to a US plan for a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Kislyak is expected in Warsaw Thursday to present Moscow's arguments against the missile shield, which it sees as a grave national security threat. Washington wants to deploy 10 anti-ballistic missile bases in Poland and associated radar bases in the Czech Republic by 2012 in an effort to ward off potential attacks by so-called rogue states, notably Iran. Both countries are members of NATO and the European Union.
In related news:
Poll: 70 Pct of Czechs Snub Missile Plan
Most Czechs continued to oppose plans to place parts of a U.S. missile defense system in the country, according to a poll released Tuesday. According to a public poll conducted by the CVVM agency, 70 percent of respondents oppose the idea of hosting a missile tracking radar system at a base in a military area near Prague as part of the system. The government-sponsored agency said a total of 1,056 people aged 15 and older were questioned between Dec 3-10, with 23 percent approving the plan. Seven percent were undecided. The margin of error for the survey was plus or minus 3 percentage points. The latest result of the poll conducted by the agency six times last year indicated the highest number of opponents so far. In April and November, 68 percent of respondents were against the missile defense base. The U.S. is in talks with the Czech government about the missile plans. Washington also wants to place 10 interceptor missiles in Poland as part of a defense shield that U.S. officials say is needed to protect against a possible threat from Iran. The Czech government has been receptive to the proposal, which has been strongly opposed by Russia. Chicago-based Boeing (nyse: BA - news - people ) Co. was authorized by the Pentagon in July to begin planning and construction at two European-based missile defense complexes in the Czech Republic and Poland under an $80 million pact. The deal could be worth up to $3.5 billion, if extended through 2013. Opposition parties have demanded a national referendum on the issue.
Czechs continue to oppose proposed US missile shield base
Seventy per cent of Czechs oppose a US plan to place a radar base for its missile defence system on Czech soil, a public opinion poll released Tuesday said, while more than 150,000 people have signed a petition against the plan. The latest survey of the Public Opinion Research Institute (CVVM), carried out in early December, also found that 23 per cent out of 1,056 people questioned supported the base and 7 per cent were undecided. The poll showed the highest number of radar opponents so far in comparison to six previous CVVM surveys conducted on the matter since September 2006. Seventy-three per cent of respondents said they would prefer to have the matter decided in a popular vote, according to the survey. The poll's margin of error is 3 per cent.
Meanwhile more than 150,000 Czechs have signed a petition by a communist youth group against the US plan, the group said Tuesday. The petition organized by the Communist Youth Union, an extremist group that displays the traditional communist symbol of the hammer and sickle, is so far the largest form of protest against the planned US project. Villagers living near the planned radar site in the Brdy military zone one hour south-west of the Czech capital Prague have organized local referendums to voice their opposition. Protests by anti-radar groups have been attended by anywhere from several hundred to several thousand people. The petition, whose first signatures were collected before the general election in 2006, is also one of the largest addressed to the parliament in the Czech Republic's 15-year existence.
'It is exceptional. When it is more than 100,000 it is really a lot,' said Marie Kratochvilova of the parliament's public relations department. She said that the record holder is a 2006 petition signed by 233,719 healthcare professionals who protested against a bill introducing changes in the country's hospital system. Washington has asked the Czech Republic and Poland to host facilities for the US missile shield, which it says is being developed against a potential missile threat from states such as Iran. Despite adverse public opinion, the centre-right ruling coalition supports the project and has entered into bilateral talks with the US on setting up the base. The US plan has angered Russia. Moscow says the shield would weaken its own nuclear deterrent and says it will take counter measures if the radar bases go ahead.