May 24, 2007 / 3:08 PM / 10 years ago

Poland and U.S. move closer to missile shield deal

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland and the United States moved closer on Thursday to an agreement to build an anti-missile shield on Polish soil, officials of both countries said after a first round of negotiations.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Rood came to Warsaw to discuss placing 10 interceptor rockets in Poland aimed at protecting against missile attacks from what Washington calls rogue states such as Iran or North Korea.

"There is still a lot to discuss but after today's talks I am very optimistic that we will come to a conclusion," Rood told a news conference.

The plan has drawn strong criticism from Russia, which sees it as a threat to its national security.

"Our opposition is known," President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday at a news conference in Luxembourg.

"We don't believe that it could be about missiles of North Korea or Iran -- they won't have them in any case for 10 to 15 years."

Russia has rejected offers to cooperate with the United States on the project and threatened to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed by the United States and the Soviet Union.

Poland's leaders Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the prime minister and his twin brother Lech, the president, are in favor of hosting the rockets but want assurances from the United States about a strategic political and military partnership and aid for the Polish army.

After a day of negotiations both sides said they were likely to reach an agreement on the project, which they said would be a "contribution to European and transatlantic security".

"This meeting raises optimism because many of our suggestions are shared by our American partner," Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said.

Both sides reiterated the plan to build parts of the U.S. system in Poland and the Czech Republic would pose no threat to Russia and rejected suggestions it would mean a new arms race.

"We don't see in any way how it could contribute to an arms race," Rood said. "Such a system poses no threat to Russia."

He suggested Polish demands for a closer bilateral military and political relationship between the two NATO members could be met but did not say what shape such an alliance might have.

"Such a project will clearly be a building block for broader cooperation and will take our military and security cooperation to a higher level," he said.

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