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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » July 30, 2008
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Deadlock in Missile Shield Talks
July 30, 2008 By W.Ż.    
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As talks on stationing a U.S. missile shield base in Poland hit further obstacles, it looks increasingly unlikely that Warsaw will reach a deal with the outgoing administration of President George W. Bush.

A meeting of the Polish-U.S. Strategic Cooperation Consultation Group (SCCG) was held July 23, chaired by Poland's Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Mull. A short statement from the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the meeting was devoted to discussing the results achieved so far by working groups on the modernization of the Polish armed forces and defining future tasks for the working groups and the SCCG. The talks progressed in a good atmosphere, confirming the strong alliance ties between the two countries, the statement said.

The main topic of the talks is believed to have been what most Polish politicians and defense experts say is a deadlock on whether parts of the U.S. missile shield system should be based in Poland. The Pentagon's plans envisage a base being set up in Poland for interceptor missile launchers. A radar station, another part of the system, will be located in the Czech Republic. During a ceremony July 8 the Americans and the Czechs, represented by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, signed an agreement on the deployment of the U.S. shield's radar in the Czech Republic.

On the same day Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced that Poland had not yet received satisfactory security guarantees from the Americans. A day later, July 9, Tusk denied media reports that the Americans had broken off the shield talks with Poland and started negotiations with Lithuania instead. Daniel Fried, director for Europe and Eurasia at the U.S. Department of State, said reports that the talks had been abandoned were "nonsense." "We assumed that a project as serious as the anti-missile shield and an issue as serious as Poland's security required an agreement which-if necessary-we would reach in the course of weeks and months," Tusk said. "Some matters require clarification, these are complicated negotiations, and the tough stance taken by my government could bring results," he continued, adding that "the Americans are beginning to understand the reasons and motives why we are so adamant about issues of Poland's security."

On July 10 Sikorski reported to the Polish parliament's Council of Senior Members on the status of the negotiations. Among other issues, he outlined the results of his visit to the United States during which he spoke with Rice and with presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama (in person with the former, over the phone with the latter). Sikorski also informed the council of some technical issues related to the installation of the shield as well as the costs involved.

His report caused mixed reactions among parliamentarians. "Donald Tusk's government has broken down the Americans' erroneous belief that nobody ever turns them down," said Sejm Speaker Bronisław Komorowski (Civic Platform, PO), expressing his support for the Polish negotiators' conduct.

Paweł Kowal, a deputy from the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party and former deputy foreign minister, said, "We weren't shown the negotiated document on the shield. The government is exploiting the shield issue for its internal policies."

Former leader of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and current head of the SLD's caucus, Wojciech Olejniczak, said, "This project involves a huge threat for Poland, and Minister Sikorski has not convinced us of the advisability of deploying the shield in Poland."

Olejniczak believes "the anti-missile shield reduces Poland's security, and the possibility of obtaining Patriot missiles does not eliminate that threat."

The SLD caucus demanded that a special debate on the shield be placed on the agenda of upcoming Sejm sessions. The Speaker replied that such a debate would be held once the negotiations were over. Komorowski believes revealing information about the negotiations before they end would harm Poland's interests.

There has been much media speculation surrounding the shield issue, primarily concerning the presence in Poland of a battery of Patriot missiles, something the Polish side is strongly demanding. The last official news from the negotiation table confirmed that the Patriot issue is the biggest bone of contention at present. The Polish government thinks at least two or three batteries should be deployed in this country, which would also serve to protect a future U.S. base. The Americans allegedly only agreed to a "rotational" stationing of just one such battery in Poland. This was the problem that prevented the finalization of negotiations during the most recent round in early July, when it looked realistic that Poland and the United States would sign an agreement during a visit by Rice to Poland.

According to one Polish daily, the Americans demanded $1 billion from the Polish government for one Patriot battery. South Korea, meanwhile, which bought 14 Patriot launchers this year, paid just under $300 million for each. Poland needs a dozen or so batteries to protect the entire country from short- and medium-range missiles, some experts say. The U.S. negotiators reportedly said that the high price was due to production having to be resumed anew. Poland was to have covered the cost of the startup of production lines.

Other media reports speculated that U.S. defense experts have assessed that Poland doesn't need such expensive equipment to defend itself because on its own it wouldn't be able to repel an attack, from Russia for instance. U.S. analyses reportedly show that if an attack occurred, not even a dozen Patriot batteries would be enough to protect Poland. That's why, instead of unnecessarily spending billions of zlotys, the Polish government should do everything in its power to enable NATO or U.S. forces to come to its aid as fast as possible.

The Polish defense ministry has not commented on these speculations officially, but military experts have disagreed with the view of their U.S. colleagues.

Russia has been hostile to the missile shield from the start. Recently the Kremlin even warned that if similar systems appeared in direct proximity to the Russian Federation's borders, not only would Russia strengthen its forces but would also consider deploying its strategic bombers in Cuba. This return to Cold War rhetoric has caused concern in Washington.

The shield issue is not just a problem of foreign or defense policy. In Poland it has led to a sharp conflict between President Lech Kaczyński and Sikorski. Like his brother Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of PiS, the president is an ardent supporter of the shield's deployment in Poland and has many times criticized Tusk's government for unnecessarily-according to the president-hindering the finalization of the negotiations. PO politicians, such as Deputy Sejm Speaker Stefan Niesiołowski, have even joked that Kaczyński would willingly pay the Americans extra just to get the shield in Poland.

When it became clear in early July that an agreement wouldn't be reached, the president first sent Anna Fotyga, who heads his office and was foreign minister in the previous coalition government of PiS, Samoobrona and the League of Polish Families (LPR) in 2005-2007, on a mission to the United States, and then summoned the current foreign minister. One newspaper revealed July 18 what had happened behind closed doors between the two politicians a fortnight earlier. Fragments of stenographic records made it clear that a serious dispute had taken place.

The meeting was held in a room of the presidential National Security Bureau that is secured against bugging and was recorded. The fragments that leaked to the media sound like an interrogation. The questions the president asked Sikorski suggest that he suspected him of having betrayed Poland's interests. The president seemed to suspect that Sikorski had entered into a secret pact with the Democrats in the United States to the effect that the agreement on the shield would be signed with them and not the outgoing administration of George W. Bush. Kaczyński also accused Sikorski of personally acting as the interpreter during a telephone conversation between U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Prime Minister Tusk on July 3. He suggested that the foreign minister might have intentionally distorted what the politicians were saying. Sikorski categorically denied this, saying that the conversation had been translated by the White House's official interpreter.
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