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Antimissile plan gets Poland’s initial OK

Times Staff Writer

Poland’s foreign minister said Friday that his country had agreed in principle to a controversial missile defense system proposed by the U.S. after receiving assurances that Washington would help with other defense needs.

Radoslow “Radek” Sikorski said talks moved forward after a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the State Department and that Polish officials planned to “intensify our dialogue” on the controversial project, despite opposition from Russia and a majority of Poles.

The Bush administration has proposed placing missile interceptors in Poland and radar installations in the Czech Republic to deter possible missile attacks from “rogue” states. The proposal has met with fierce opposition from Russia, which fears that a system in its backyard could be expanded and used to neutralize its huge missile force.

After the new Polish government took office in November, officials said they would reconsider the missile defense project, and might even delay a deal until the next U.S. administration takes office. More recently, however, they had said that American help to improve Polish antiaircraft defense would help win their cooperation.

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Sikorski said Friday that although the two countries have an agreement in principle, additional decisions must be made. “We are not at the end of the road as regards negotiations. We are in the middle of the road,” he said, meeting reporters with Rice.

She said U.S. officials now “have some momentum” and that “the United States is very committed to the modernization of Polish forces.”

The Bush administration has been talking to Eastern European countries about the antimissile system for several years but launched the project in a way that appeared “heavy-handed and unilateral,” said James M. Goldgeier, a specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations.

More recently, administration officials have been trying to alter the approach. Even so, Russian officials have been unyielding. In a speech to a Washington think tank this week, Sikorski accused the Russians of trying to “blackmail” Poland.

Rice did not specify what kind of equipment U.S. officials would consider providing. Polish officials have expressed interest in Patriot or high-altitude air defense batteries as a defense against shorter-range missiles.

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paul.richter@latimes.com


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