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Poland in harder bargain with US on missile defense plan - analysis

Poland, currently in talks with the United States over the establishing of a US missile defense base on its territory, has switched to a more hard-line stance and raised its demands in exchange for agreeing to host the base.

Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich has said Washington needs to provide more security for Poland if it wants Warsaw to agree the installation of 10 US missile interceptors in the country. The demand came amid fears that Poland would become a potential target of attacks. The US said the interceptors in Poland and a radar base in the neighboring Czech Republic it planned to set are to protect the US and Europe against potential attacks from what it called “rogue” states. There are worries in Poland that the national security may be threatened if the country host US missile defense bases. Such worries have fueled opposition to the US missile defense plan in Poland, where latest polls show 57% of the people object to the plan. New Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Poland would not agree to host the US base unless Washington guarantees its national security.

Polish officials have seen a need to upgrade the country’s air defenses out of security concerns. Klich has said Poland would like the US to provide new air defense systems like Patriot missiles. “We believe that the injection of American funds into the modernization of our armed forces would balance the risk to our security linked to the construction of the base,” he said. Many analysts believe Poland’s request for new air defense systems comes as a response to the popular demand regarding security and highlights a better position for Poland in its talks with the Bush administration. The Bush administration, worried about possible changes in US foreign policy after presidential elections this year, is pushing for an early start to the work in eastern Europe. But while the United States is rushing into the talks over the missile defense plan, Poland is not.

Poland, mindful of US strategic goals, is keen to protect its own interests. Tusk appears cooler to the US proposal than his predecessor Jaroslaw Kaczynski, saying his country would not rush for a decision. The overly US-leaning policy of the previous government led to its defeat in Polish elections last year. At issue in Poland are the deployment of troops to Iraq and talks with the United States on its missile defense plan. “As the prime minister of the Polish government, I feel responsible for the security of Poles, and not, with all due respect for our greatest ally, for the security of the United States,” said Tusk who assumed the post last November. The new Polish government under Tusk also expressed disappointment with Washington’s failure to allay Russian concerns and opted to open direct dialogue with Moscow.

Russia has fiercely opposed the US missile defense plan in Eastern Europe, saying such an installation so close to its territory poses a threat to its national security, and has warned it could target the base in Poland with missiles. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak visited Poland earlier this month, trying to make the Polish side “aware of the risks of the planned system,” Polish news agency PAP reported. As some analysts said, from unconditional agreement to conditional acceptance, Poland raised demands to elevate its bargaining position. Klich visited the United States last week for talks with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said they had “frank but productive” talks. “We are trying to figure out how to work with them to continue to move forward on what we believe to be a program of vital importance not just for us, but really for Europe,” he said. Morrell said the United States will work to address Poland’s concerns, but he would not elaborate on what those concerns are. (