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United States, Poland Sign Missile Interceptor Deal

Top U.S. and Polish foreign affairs officials today signed a pact to install 10 U.S. missile interceptors in the East European nation, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, Aug. 18). U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski in Warsaw for the signing.

"It is an agreement which will help us to respond to the threats of the 21st century," Rice said.

"We have achieved our main goals, which means that our country and the United States will be more secure," said Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, whose government had demanded Patriot air defense systems and funding for military upgrades as part of a deal.

Washington has now completed agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic, site of a planned early warning radar.  Lawmakers in both nations must sign off on the deals.

The Bush administration says its European missile defense system is intended to counter missile threats from nations such as Iran.  Russia, however, has characterized the planned defenses as a threat to its nuclear deterrent and has threatened to respond accordingly.  When Warsaw and Washington first announced the agreement last week, a senior Russian general said that hosting the interceptors could make Poland the target of nuclear missiles.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer yesterday called such language "pathetic rhetoric."

"It is unhelpful and it leads nowhere," he said (Gera/Scislowska, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, Aug. 20).

Polish President Lech Kaczynski yesterday also fired back at Russia, without specifically naming the former Cold War superpower, Agence France-Presse reported.

"No one can dictate to Poland what it should do.  That's in the past," Kaczynski said during a televised address.  "Our neighbors should now understand that our nation will never give in, nor allow itself to be intimidated."

The United States says that its plan poses no threat to Russia, given the small number of interceptors in comparison to the vast Russian nuclear arsenal.  Washington hopes between 2011 and 2013 to install the European missile defense elements, which would augment systems in place in Greenland, the United Kingdom and the United States, AFP reported (Agence France-Presse/Spacewar.com, Aug. 19).

It is estimated to cost $712 million to begin preparing silos in Poland, initiate procurement for the interceptors and deploy the radar system in the Czech Republic, the New York Times reported.  Some Democrats in Washington have questioned whether the system has been tested sufficiently to support the cost.

"Go ahead and move on with research and development," said Representative Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who heads the House panel with oversight on U.S. missile defense efforts.  "But as far as putting holes in the ground in Poland, we are saying no."

Republicans, though, say the recent conflict between Russia and Georgia makes the system an easier sell.

"It is going to be easier to make our case on Capitol Hill now," said Representative Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), "as this has reminded Poland and some of the other nations formerly dominated by the Soviet Union that the coercive Russia mind-set of militarily threatening your neighbors has not completely disappeared."

The Defense Department said it conducted six successful intercept tests in nine attempts since 2001 while developing the U.S.-based system.  The European system, however, would not have as much time to take out a missile fired from Iran as U.S.-based interceptors would have for a North Korean weapon.  The Pentagon's test and evaluation office has said the system cannot be proven effective without additional engineering efforts.

"Is this a perfect system?  Absolutely not," said Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.  "Is it embryonic?  No, we are well beyond that."

A House panel earlier this year largely held back authorization on spending for construction of the Polish site and said that the Pentagon must show the system to be reliable before money would be made available.

Obering argued that construction should move ahead but that installation of the interceptors should be delayed until completion of testing around 2010.

"We can't wait until the Iranians launch a long-range missile and then start worrying about building out the site," he said.  "If you do that, you are way behind the curve" (Eric Lipton, New York Times, Aug. 19).

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