U.S., Polish defense leaders: Missile defense will enhance security
WARSAW, Poland — U.S. and Polish defense leaders agree that basing ground-based, missile defense interceptors in Poland will enhance the country's security.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates met with Polish Minister of National Defense Aleksander Szczyglo here April 24 to discuss the planned deployment, along with Poland's participation in Iraq and Afghanistan.
U.S. defense officials have begun negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic to host long-range, ground-based interceptors and missile defense radar on their territories. These defense assets would counter possible missile attacks from such rogue nations as Iran or other sources in the Middle East or Southwest Asia.
While the Czech Republic has agreed to begin formal discussions about hosting the U.S. radar base, Poland has not yet agreed, a senior defense official traveling with the secretary said on background.
Following their meeting, Szczyglo told U.S. and Polish reporters the two men "came to the common conclusion that this U.S. project should increase the level of security in Europe, in this case specifically in Poland."
Gates said it was a pleasure to be back in Warsaw, noting that he first visited the city in 1975 on an advance trip for President Ford's visit. "All I can say is that Warsaw is a very different and very much better place today than it was in 1975," the secretary commented.
Gates reported that he had good talks with his Polish counterpart, and he expressed his condolences to the Polish people for the Polish soldier killed a few days ago in Iraq.
He said he reviewed with Szczyglo U.S. thinking on basing the missile defenses in Europe, as well as the "constructive conversations" he'd had in Moscow, including U.S. proposals for cooperation with Russia that were presented to NATO and Russia last week and then again discussed yesterday in Moscow. He also told the Polish defense leader that the United States and Russia would set up an expert group to continue looking at the subject.
Gates acknowledged that differences remain between the United States and Russia, especially on the technical characteristics and limitations of the system and Russia's concerns on the future capabilities of the system. He said the Russians have some misunderstandings about the systems.
"To alleviate that uncertainty," Gates said, "I invited the Russians to Alaska to see our interceptors and also to California to see what the radar would look like. Clearly they have questions about the capabilities of the system, and those are questions I think we can answer."
The secretary said he assured Szczyglo that constructive dialogue with Russia would continue. "We also agreed that any arrangement on missile defense with Poland should enhance Poland's overall security," Gates said.
"I do not believe Russia is a military threat to Poland - now, nor should we deploy a missile defense," the secretary said. "One of the points I made in Russia is that … we're not talking about tomorrow or next year, but rather thinking about what the world might look like in 10 or 20 years.
"As I mentioned in my meeting with the minister," he said, "when I visited here in 1975, I never would have dreamed that 14 years later Poland would be free and that shortly after that the Cold War would be over.
"The world changes in dramatic ways," he said, "and what we're talking about here is indivisible security for the Unites States and our NATO allies. We would like to extend that umbrella to Russia and partner with Russia, have Russia be with us as we extend that program."
Gates thanked the minister for the robust Polish effort in Iraq and in Afghanistan. There are just fewer than 1,000 Polish troops in Iraq, and in response to NATO's plea for more troops, a combat battalion of 400 troops is now deploying to Afghanistan.
Gates said he looks forward to meeting with Poland's president and foreign minister tomorrow.
From Warsaw, the secretary is stopping in Germany to brief local leaders there before heading back to the United States.