WARSAW (Reuters) - President George W. Bush is expected to visit Warsaw in June for talks on installing part of a U.S. missile defense system in Poland, Polish daily Rzeczpospolita said on Saturday, quoting a government source.
“We’re expecting Bush to come,” said the source, adding the visit had been arranged by Elzbieta Jakubiak, head of President Lech Kaczynski’s office, during a recent trip to Washington.
Officials at the U.S. embassy could not be immediately reached for comment. Bush is in Europe for the June 6-8 Group of Eight summit in Germany. He is also expected to visit the Czech Republic and Rome during his trip.
Washington wants to deploy 10 interceptor rockets in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic by 2012 as part of a multibillion-dollar system designed to shoot down missiles from states such as Iran.
Poland’s government supports the shield, saying it would boost Polish security. But public opinion is divided, with critics saying an installation could make Poland a target for terrorists.
A visiting U.S. delegation now meeting officials in Warsaw has tried to allay Polish fears by stressing that the system would increase security.
“The missile shield will not only defend the United States but also Europe, including Poland,” Lt-Gen Henry Obering told all-news channel TVN24 on Saturday.
The chief of the U.S. Missile defense agency also rejected Kremlin fears the system might endanger Russia’s security by emphasizing its non-offensive nature.
“Russia’s reaction is unjustified because the 10 interceptor missiles will not be equipped with warheads but will neutralize enemy missile strictly through impact,” Obering said.
Washington hopes to begin detailed negotiations with Warsaw and Prague within the next 30 days, diplomats say.
The project has jangled nerves in Western Europe, too, notably in Germany, but no allies raised objections to the system at NATO talks on Thursday, NATO officials said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was to travel to Russia on Monday to discuss the anti-missile defense plan.