Poland, U.S. Agree on Missile Defense System Poland's foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, says his country has agreed in principle to allow a U.S. missile defense system in the country. The Bush administration wants to put 10 interceptor missiles in Poland to defend against a potential strike by Iran. The project has infuriated Poland's neighbor, Russia, and caused concern among the Polish people.
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Poland, U.S. Agree on Missile Defense System

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Poland, U.S. Agree on Missile Defense System

Poland, U.S. Agree on Missile Defense System

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The Cold War ended nearly two decades ago, but we were reminded of the old tensions and rivalries this week when Poland's foreign minister came to Washington. Radek Sikorski was negotiating his country's role in a planned U.S. missile defense system. This is a project President Bush has pursued since his first year in office.

And it's a project that has infuriated Russia and gotten a cool reaction from some people in Poland too. Now Foreign Minister Sikorski says Poland and the U.S. have agreed in principle on terms for Polish participation, though talks on details continue. And he made the diplomatic rounds, and as he did Mr. Sikorski stopped by our NPR studios.

The Bush administration wants to deploy ten interceptor missiles on Polish territory to counter a missile attack from Iran. Does Poland share Washington's fears about a strike from Iran?

Mr. RADEK SIKORSKI (Foreign Minister, Poland): Well, we are in a different position on the globe, so clearly our security perceptions are different. And we have diplomatic relations with Iran. We are concerned about the nature of the Iranian regime and about the nuclear program of Iran. But the U.S. is an important ally of ours. And when an important ally asks you to host a base, you consider it seriously.

SEABROOK: Does your government believe that this missile defense system would enhance Poland's security then by sort of an add-on affect?

Mr. SIKORSKI: It's a proposed base that would have all kinds of impact, both on security vis-à-vis countries developing ballistic missiles, but would also be a target for terrorists and is also of concern to our neighbors. So we have to take all these things into the equation before we make a decision.

SEABROOK: Russian President Vladimir Putin is pretty angry about this missile defense plan, even though the Bush administration has assured Putin that the system isn't meant to and won't even be capable of neutralizing Russia's nuclear arsenal.

This week you spoke at a Washington think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, and you said Poland has come under political pressure and has even been blackmailed by some of its neighbors who fiercely oppose this project. Is that the Russians you were referring to and how have they blackmailed you?

Mr. SIKORSKI: Well, we have a history of this, actually. We purchased 48 U.S. F-16s. Most of them are in Poland now. And Russia has deployed S300 missiles and aircraft missile in Belarus on our border. And some Russia generals say that if we go ahead with the missile defense base, they would put up medium range missiles also on our border.

SEABROOK: Let's talk about the energy supplies that come from Russia to Poland. Could the Russians use those supplies as a retaliation for this? Is that something that you worry about, Russia cutting off your energy supply?

Mr. SIKORSKI: Look, we want to have good relations with Russia. I mean, don't make it sound as if the Cold War is back. I've just been to Moscow. My prime minister is going to Moscow soon. We've actually had recently exchanges of gestures of good will. Russia has the energy. Europe needs the energy. In that sense we are compatible. But we believe that energy should be a tradable good rather than an instrument of geopolitics.

SEABROOK: You have suggested that you want a permanent NATO base in Poland in return or at least along with this base of interceptor missiles.

Mr. SIKORSKI: Well, Poland has been a NATO member for nine years now. And all that we have as regards NATO facilities in Poland is one unfinished conference center. And we're actually a border country of NATO, between Europe, where democracy, human rights, all these things we can take for granted, and countries such as Belarus and elsewhere, where these things are not obvious at all. So we would like NATO infrastructure to be spread more evenly, and that I think is non-controversial.

SEABROOK: How has the Bush administration so far responded to your questions about security for Poland in return for this missile defense base?

Mr. SIKORSKI: Well, Poland is a contributor to security. We are with the U.S. in Iraq from the first day and we'll be there until October. We are in Afghanistan, in the south, at the cutting edge, without caveats. We're increasing our commitments to Afghanistan from 1,200 troops to 1,600, plus some helicopters. It's a continuing discussion about what we will do together.

SEABROOK: Are you seeking other military aid in Poland?

Mr. SIKORSKI: Sure. We would like to collaborate with the U.S. in the defense field because that's the area where the United States has unique credibility in Poland. Poland is a member of the EU, and the EU has a much bigger presence in Poland now than the United States. So I think if the U.S. wants to maintain its influence in Europe, the security dimension is crucial.

SEABROOK: Radek Sikorski is the foreign minister of Poland. Thanks very much for coming in.

Mr. SIKORSKI: Thank you.

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