WASHINGTON (AFP) — Poland said Friday it has reached a deal in principle with the United States for aid to modernize Polish air defenses in return for Warsaw's hosting a controversial US missile shield.
But Poland's visiting Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski added that "a great deal of work" lay ahead while his host, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, spoke of "some progress" and "some momentum" on missile defense.
Amid concerns about the potential risks of hosting US missile interceptors, Warsaw has been pressing the United States to help upgrade the Polish armed forces, and notably to boost the country's air-defense system.
"We have an agreement in principle," Sikorski told reporters Friday when asked if he had received assurances about US aid for Poland's air defenses.
"There is still a great deal of work for our experts," he added.
"And, as I mentioned, the prime minister and the president will approve of whatever is done in the meantime, but yes, I'm satisfied that the principles we have argued for have been accepted," Sikorski said.
He said the two sides were only in the "middle of the road" of negotiations.
The US shield plan, which calls for associated radar stations in the Czech Republic, is strongly opposed by Russia.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk recently demanded extra US security guarantees should Poland host the shield, possibly in the form of a Patriot missile air defense system similar to one already deployed in neighboring NATO member Germany.
Rice struck an upbeat note without indicating how much progress had been made.
"We believe very strongly that we have some momentum, and we will resume our negotiations as soon as possible on missile defense," the top US diplomat told reporters.
Tusk will visit the United States early in March for talks with US President George W. Bush in order "to go forward with some of the larger issues," she added.
She indicated missile defense would arise at the NATO summit in Bucharest from 2-4 April.
Rice said missile defense was one component of the US-Polish strategic relationship that "will help us if we are able to go forward -- and I believe that we have made some progress."
She added "it will help us to confront a certain kind of threat of relatively small but nonetheless very lethal missile threats from rogue nations."
In return, "the United States very much supports the modernization of the forces of the alliance," she said.
"We understand that there is a desire for defense modernization in Poland, and particularly for air defense modernization in Poland," Rice said.
Rice renewed US arguments to skeptics that the US missile shield had nothing to do with the US Strategic Defense Initiative of past decades that was designed to counter a Russian strategic nuclear threat.
"This is not that program. This is not the son of that program. This is not the grandson of that program," she said.
"There is no way that a few interceptors in Poland and radars in the Czech Republic can degrade the thousands of nuclear warheads that the Russians have. And there is no intent to do so," she said.
In fact, both Russia and the United States need to cooperate in missile defense, "because the Russians face some of the same threats," she added.
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