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US, Poland prepare to sign shield deal

Latest update : 2008-08-20

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski are set to sign an accord midday Wednesday, allowing the US to base ten interceptor missiles in Poland.

Washington and Warsaw were set Wednesday to sign a deal on basing an US missile shield in Poland, in the face of strident opposition from Russia which has warned the Poles they risk attack.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski were scheduled to ink the accord at an official ceremony in Warsaw at 11:30 am (0930 GMT).

Washington plans by 2011-2013 to base 10 interceptor missiles in Poland plus a radar facility in the neighbouring Czech Republic -- both of them NATO members -- to complete a system already in place in the United States, Greenland and Britain.   

Moscow is deeply opposed to the missile plan, and the deal signing comes amid a spike in tensions between Washington and its allies over Russia's conflict with pro-Western Georgia, a country staunchly supported by ex-communist Poland.

Washington insists the shield -- endorsed by all 26 NATO member states earlier this year -- is to fend off potential missile attacks by what it calls "rogue states", a phrase regarded as including Iran.

Moscow, however, considers it a security threat designed to undermine Russia's nuclear deterrent. It has warned of retaliation against the Poles and Czechs, saying they could even be a target for Russian attack.

Poland's President Lech Kaczynski hit back in a live televised address Tuesday evening, saying his country would not give in to threats.

"No one can dictate to Poland what it should do. That's in the past," Kaczynski said.

"Our neighbours should now understand that our nation will never give in, nor allow itself to be intimidated," he added.

Kaczynski did not name Russia directly, but his mention of the "past" was a clear reference to Poland's four post-World War II decades as a Soviet satellite.

"No one should be afraid of (the shield), if they have good intentions towards us or the rest of the West," Kaczynski said.

Warsaw and Prague have had rocky relations with Moscow since they broke free from the crumbling communist bloc in 1989, and ties have worsened since they joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004.   

In an attempt to calm Moscow's ire during the negotiations, Poland repeatedly offered to let Russia inspect the US base once the missiles are deployed.

"Our offer still stands," Sikorski said last week.

"We want Russia to be able to have the possibility, if it so desires, to inspect the future base," he said.

US and Polish negotiators signed a preliminary deal in Warsaw last Thursday, capping 15 months of negotiations.

Talks had ground on until the United States accepted Poland's demands for extra security guarantees to offset the potential risks of hosting a base -- not specifically from Russia -- including a Patriot missile air-defence system and boosted military ties.

The missile plan foresees the deployment of several hundred US troops in Poland to service the shield facility as well as the Patriot missiles, which will gradually be turned over to the Poles once they have been trained to use them.

Washington and Prague sealed the radar deal in July.

Both accords must still be ratified by Polish and Czech lawmakers.

Date created : 2008-08-20