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US Deflects Attacks On Missile Shield Proposal

A former US ambassador to Poland, Fried has held meetings since Tuesday about the missile shield with Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski (pictured on left), Defence Minister Aleksander Szczyglo, and Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga, as well as leading opposition figures. Photo courtesy AFP.

Spain doubtful over US missile system in Europe
Madrid (AFP) March 21 - Spain on Wednesday said it had significant doubts about the United States' plan to install an anti-missile defence system in central Europe. "The project raises for us significant doubts which must be examined carefully," Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said during a parliamentary question-and-answer question. He doubted the ability of the proposed system, which would be based in Poland and the Czech Republic, to prevent the proliferation of weapons.

Moratinos also raised questions about the repercussions it could have on relations between the West and Russia, which has strongly opposed the project, and the countries "where it will be pointed at in the south" -- namely Iran. However, he admitted that the Spanish government did not have enough information on the project and said it had set up a committee to look into it. The proposed anti-missile defence system is intended to complete existing systems in the United States, Greeland and the United Kingdom. Washington has insisted it is not aimed at Russia but intended to defend against potential threats from Iran and North Korea.

by Karin Zeitvogel
Warsaw (AFP) March 21, 2007
A top US official deflected attacks Wednesday on a proposal by Washington to base a missile defence shield in Poland, saying the system was designed to protect Europe, not beef up US military might.

"It is possible to defend the United States without any installation in Poland whatsoever," US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried told reporters here, after holding two days of talks with Polish officials.

"If we were only defending the United States, we would not be holding talks in Poland."

Washington's proposals to base 10 unarmed Interceptor missiles in Poland and a powerful radar in the Czech Republic, to thwart potential attacks -- in particular from Iran -- were "part of European defence, not American defence," Fried insisted.

"It does us no good if Europe is vulnerable even if the United States is not. Transatlantic security cannot be divided," Fried said, stepping up a US charm offensive after the proposed missile shield came in for stinging attacks from Russia and a former Polish government official.

Former Polish defence minister Radek Sikorski said in an opinion piece published in the Washington Post Wednesday that the United States had been "crass" in selling the plan, and should not expect the deal to be welcomed with open arms.

"Some genius at the State Department or the Pentagon sent the first official note describing possible placement of the facility with a draft reply attached -- a reply that contained a long list of host countries' obligations and few corresponding US commitments," said Sikorski.

"This was particularly crass. If the Bush administration expects Poles and Czechs to jump for joy and agree to whatever is proposed, it's going to face a mighty crash with reality," he said.

And even as Fried held preliminary talks in Warsaw aimed at sounding out Polish officials on the system, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov slammed the plan as "disrespectful" to Washington's partners in the EU and NATO.

The Kremlin has also expressed concern that the missile shield, based in its backyard, could target Russia.

"Russia is not threatened by this system and it knows it," Fried said bluntly.

"We have consulted extensively with the Russians at all levels about missile defence in general and our plans with the Czech Republic and Poland in particular," Fried said.

The proposed system would be "designed to counter a very limited number of missiles coming from the general direction of the Middle East, and Iran in particular," Fried said. "It is no good against Russian ballistic missiles -- it is not designed to be or have the capability to be."

A former US ambassador to Poland, Fried has held meetings since Tuesday about the missile shield with Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Defence Minister Aleksander Szczyglo, and Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga, as well as leading opposition figures.

"I came here to listen to the government and opposition, to hear their concerns and take them back to the United States so that when these negotiations start, they can start in the right way," Fried said.

When formal talks start, they were likely to last several months and be difficult, "with Poland asking hard questions", the US diplomat said.

Washington would not "try to jam this through," he added.

Parts of the shield are already in place in the United States, Britain and Greenland, and the plan is to have the system fully operational by 2011-2012.

Szczyglo told a separate press briefing in the western city of Wroclaw that Poland's national security council would meet on the defence shield next week.

earlier related report
US missile shield will protect Europe: State department official
Warsaw (AFP) March 21 - The United States wants to set up a controversial missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland to protect not only itself but also the European continent, a top State Department official said here Wednesday.

"We want this system to also protect Europe. Security is an indivisible issue for us," US Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, Daniel Fried, told the Gazeta Wyborcza daily. "A situation in which NATO countries have different levels of security is unacceptable to us," he added. Fried held talks Tuesday with Polish Defence Minister Aleksander Szczyglo "on the missions in Afghanistan and Iraq and aspects of the deployment of parts of the anti-missile shield in Europe", the Polish defence ministry said.

The US official, a former US ambassador to Poland, was due Wednesday to meet with Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga.

The United States wants to base 10 unarmed interceptor missiles in Poland and install a powerful radar in the Czech Republic as part of a defence shield that Washington says is meant to guard against threats from "rogue" states such as Iran.

Parts of the shield are already in place in the United States, Britain and Greenland, and the plan is to have the system fully operational by 2011-2012.

Fried's statement echoed what was said on Sunday by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that "Europe's safety cannot be divided up."

Germany has expressed concern about Washington's plans to base more elements of the missile defence shield in Europe, saying it could be divisive and spark a new arms race on the continent.

earlier related report
US missile shield disrespects EU, NATO: Russia
Moscow (AFP) March 21 - A US plan to deploy elements of a missile defence shield in central Europe is a throwback to the Cold War and shows a lack of respect for Washington's EU and NATO partners, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday.

"The American decision is presented in such a way that is disrespectful to its partners in the EU and even in relation to other members of NATO," he told Russia's parliament.

Lavrov's comment echoed splits within the Western military alliance over the controversial anti-missile defence system, which is fiercely opposed by Russia.

Germany on Monday said NATO should be consulted about the US plans after Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned against a new arms race on the continent.

The United States says it wants to extend an anti-missile defence system to Poland and the Czech Republic and also possibly to a country in the Caucasus region on Russia's southern border.

Lavrov said Russian military experts were hoping to discuss the missile shield with their US counterparts.

"It is necessary to convince them that it is possible to neutralize hypothetical threats in ways that do not create a real threat for the Russian Federation," he said.

Washington insists the shield is meant to guard against threats from states such as Iran and North Korea and would not threaten Russia.

earlier related report
German FM urges Russia, US to discuss missile shield
Berlin (AFP) March 21 - German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Wednesday urged Washington and Moscow to discuss US plans to erect a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe which have angered Russia.

Steinmeier told parliament that the two Cold War-era enemies needed "time and open discussions" to build trust.

"Merely trying to have the upper hand militarily, will create neither friendship nor peace," he added.

Steinmeier urged Washington to think about the consequences of building the shield to protect Europe from potential attacks by Iran before the Islamic republic had acquired long distance missiles that can strike Europe.

The minister's spokesman has suggested that such a step could lead to "escalation" on the part of Iran.

Steinmeier told German MPs that Europe did not need a new Cold War, even if it were fought with words only.

The foreign minister, whose country holds the EU presidency, warned at the weekend that the continent should not become the scene of a new arms race.

Germany has made clear that it is concerned about the row that has broken out between Russia and the United States over the Pentagon's plans to place parts of the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Russia sees this an act of intimidation and President Vladimir Putin has vowed that his country will come up with a "highly effective" response to the US plans.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for the US, Poland and the Czech Republic to discuss the issue with their NATO partners.

But a spokesman for NATO signalled that the alliance will not get involved in bi-lateral agreements between the US and the nations hosting the missile defence equipment.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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