Clinton oversees signing of US-Poland missile-shield pact
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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton oversaw the signing of a deal with Poland Saturday allowing a revised missile-shield program to defend against potential threats from Iran or elsewhere. Russia has been a vocal critic of such pacts in the past.
REUTERS - Poland and the United States signed an agreement on Saturday to carry out a revised missile defence shield despite Russian objections.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton witnessed the signing of the pact, which allows the two nations to implement plans to station U.S. missile interceptors on Polish soil to defend against potential threats from Iran and elsewhere.
She was then to attend a conference on promoting democracy and civil liberties -- an issue she is stressing during a four-day trip to the former Soviet bloc nations of Ukraine, Poland, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia.
U.S. President Barack Obama decided last year to scrap a Bush-era plan to deploy a longer-range missile-defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic. opting instead to use smaller sea- and land-based missile interceptors.
"The United States is deeply committed to Poland's security and sovereignty," Clinton told reporters at a joint news conference with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski.
"Today, by signing an amendment to the ballistic missile defence agreement, we are reinforcing this commitment."
While there were reports last year that Poland was unhappy with Obama's abandoning the Bush plan, Sikorski said his nation actually preferred the new approach.
"When President Obama announced the new configuration of the system, we did say that we liked the new configuration better but I think you didn't believe us," he said. "I hope now that we have signed the annex, I hope you do believe us."
Clinton stays out of Polish politics
Clinton sought to counter Russian objections to the plan, which Moscow views as a danger to its own nuclear deterrent.
"This is purely a defensive system. It is not directed at Russia. It does not threaten Russia. It is a defensive system to protect our friends and allies and our deployed forces," she said. "The real threats come from the development of short- and medium-term missiles on a faster timetable from Iran."
The two countries also announced plans to cooperate on the exploitation of shale gas at the news conference.
Clinton began her day by laying a wreath at a memorial to pay tribute to the victims of an April 10 plane crash in Russia that killed 96 people including President Lech Kaczynski, Poland's top military commanders and central bank governor.
The group was planning to mark the 70th anniversary of the massacre of Polish officers by Soviet forces in Katyn forest during World War Two when their Tupolev plane crashed in thick fog near Smolensk airport in western Russia.
Poland on Sunday holds the final round of voting in a presidential election brought on by Kaczynski's death. The race pits his twin brother, conservative Jaroslaw Kaczynski, against Bronislaw Komorowski, the business-friendly acting president.
Clinton studiously avoided taking sides in the race and U.S. officials said she had no plans to meet Komorowski, who might be in Krakow in his capacity as acting president.
"Whichever candidate is chosen, the United States will continue to be your friend and partner," she said.
She was to end her visit to Krakow by giving a speech at the Community of Democracies, a 10-year-old inter-governmental group that aims to promote democracy and civil liberties.