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US warns Poland it could turn elsewhere for missile talks

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) June 18, 2008
The United States warned Poland Tuesday it could turn to other countries if talks with Warsaw on hosting part of a US missile defense shield do not advance.

The comments came as a top Lithuanian official was in Washington, although State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas's talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the White House and Pentagon were not linked to the missile matter.

"Our focus and our efforts right now are on coming up with a definitive answer in terms of the deployment that have been suggested and proposed for Poland, and we are not at this point involved in any negotiation on alternate sites because the goal is to conclude an agreement with Poland," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

"If for some reason those arrangements don't work out, then I am sure we would look elsewhere," he said.

Afterwards, in a second press briefing, Casey was at pains to appear optimistic about the negotiations with Warsaw.

"We've had these conversations for a long time, and I think you'd see a resolution of this somewhere in the coming days," the spokesman said.

"But whether that's in a week or two weeks, I'm not really in a position to say. It will all depend on the pace and structure of the negotiations."

The United States has begun to sound out Lithuania as a possible alternative host for a controversial missile shield as talks with Poland on the project grind on.

US officials confirmed that chief missile defense negotiator John Rood visited Lithuania last month, stressing all the while there were in actual fact no negotiations with the ex-Soviet Baltic state.

The United States wants to base 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a linked radar facility in the Czech Republic to ward off potential attacks by so-called "rogue" states, notably Iran.

Begun in May 2007, talks advanced quickly under conservative Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski. But after taking power in November last year, the liberal administration of Prime Minister Donald Tusk quickly raised the stakes, demanding more than the 47 million dollars (30 million euros) in military aid President George W. Bush promised Poland would receive by 2009.

Tusk said Monday that Poland's talks with the United States on the missiles were in their final phase.

"The negotiations are at a key stage. It really is the final stretch," Tusk told reporters in Warsaw, without giving details.

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