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US missile chief concerned by delays to Polish base accord

US Missile Defence Agency head General Henry Obering.
by Staff Writers
Warsaw (AFP) Oct 30, 2008
A top US defence official Thursday said he was worried that delays in Poland's ratification could upset a tight timetable for deploying American missiles here to ward off attacks from so-called rogue states.

"I'm very concerned. That's probably the biggest concern I have at this point," US Missile Defence Agency head General Henry Obering said during a stock-taking visit to Poland, which has faced anger from its former overlord Russia for agreeing to host the silos.

Polish lawmakers have yet to ratify a deal struck in August between Warsaw and Washington after more than a year of painstaking talks, which foresees the creation of a US base in northern Poland for 10 interceptor missiles.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who under the country's constitution must sign the ratification, Thursday urged parliament to approve it "as soon as possible."

Officials in Warsaw said they were doing what they could, blaming the need to tackle several linked agreements in one go.

Besides the overall interceptor deal, lawmakers must consider a pact giving Poland US Patriot air-defence missiles, as well as a "status of forces agreement" governing the presence of US troops.

The aim of the base, and a related radar in the Czech Republic, is to complete an anti-missile shield already in place in the United States, Greenland and Britain.

Washington says the system, endorsed by NATO this year, aims to fend off potential missile attacks by what it calls "rogue states," specifically Iran.

The United States warns that Iran could develop long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads by 2015-2017.

"If we get ratification by the end of this year, we will still not be able to put an interceptor on the ground in Poland until 2012," said Obering, explaining that construction of the base could only begin in late 2009 or early 2010.

"And it will probably take us a year and a half or so to get all the interceptors in the ground. So in 2013 or 2014 it will be operation. The radar will be ready in about 2013," he said.

"So the more we delay that, the longer it takes us to have the defence, and the more opportunity there would be for Iran to emerge," he warned.

Muddying the waters is the looming US presidential election.

On Wednesday, Prague called for a delay in a final vote on its radar agreements until the inauguration of President George W. Bush's successor in January.

"We want a delay to make sure about the attitude of the new American administration," said Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek.

There have suggestions that Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama could be less enthusiastic for the shield than Republican hopeful John McCain.

Obering, however, noted that the shield budget was approved by a Democrat-controlled Congress and added that "I believe there will continue to be support".

The plan has enraged Moscow, master of Poland and the then Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. Both countries broke from the crumbling communist bloc in 1989, joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004.

The Kremlin regards the shield as a security menace -- amid rising East-West tensions after Russia's conflict with US-backed Georgia -- and has threatened to aim its missiles at the sites.

Washington has repeatedly insisted the system has never been against Russia and in any case would not dent its vast arsenal.

"Technically speaking and militarily speaking, this is not a threat to Russia," Obering said.

"The geography is not right," he added, explaining that had Washington wanted to fend off Russian missiles it would have had to deploy interceptors much further west.

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Czech govt wants vote on missile shield after US election
Prague (AFP) Oct 29, 2008
The Czech government Wednesday called for delaying a final vote on two agreements with Washington to deploy part of a missile shield system on Czech soil until a new US president takes office.







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