November 17, 2005

US talks with Poland about missile-defense base

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is holding talks
with Poland about establishing a military base there to shoot
down long-range missiles fired from the Middle East or Africa
that could threaten Europe, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

The possible future base in Poland, which would begin
operating no earlier than 2010, would be part of a broader
missile-defense system being developed by the United States and
would become the first installation in the network outside
American territory, U.S. officials said.

Defense officials did not mention any specific countries in
the Middle East or Africa as threats to fire long-range
missiles at Europe and emphasized that no immediate decision
was expected in the talks with Poland.

"The discussions are in the conceptual stage," said Air
Force Lt. Col. Tracy O'Grady-Walsh, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

Officials offered no estimate of the cost of establishing
the base and did not mention sites in Poland being considered.

Polish Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, whose
conservatives won September's general election, said on Monday
his government was considering hosting U.S. missile-defense

Marcinkiewicz considers the United States the guarantor of
security for Poland and wants his country, a NATO and European
Union member, to continue close defense ties with Washington.

"We have been in broad discussions with our NATO allies for
three to four years encouraging the alliance to expand its
consensus on missile defense to address the full range of
missile threats to forces, territory and population centers,"
O'Grady-Walsh added.

The multibillion-dollar U.S. missile defense system now
being developed by the United States is based on the concept of
using one missile, an interceptor, to shoot down another
missile, fired by an enemy, before it can reach its target.

Creation of a missile defense system has been a goal of
many U.S. conservatives dating back to a space-based plan
developed under President Ronald Reagan two decades ago. The
Pentagon failed to meet its goal of declaring a missile defense
system operational in 2004, and critics argued that failures in
testing the costly system show it simply does not work.


There are no U.S. military bases in Poland or elsewhere in
the former Soviet bloc countries of eastern Europe, but the
United States has talked with Romania and Bulgaria about access
to bases for U.S. troops as part of an American realignment of
forces worldwide.

Officials said Poland, in eastern Europe, is geographically
well placed as a location for a base from which interceptors
can be fired at missiles heading toward the continent, but said
it is possible other sites in Europe could be mulled.

The possible base in Poland would be used to defend against
missile threats from the Middle East and Africa, officials
said, and would not be designed to defend against potential
attacks from Asia.

The Pentagon already has installed interceptor missiles in
silos at Fort Greely in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in
California, but has not declared the system operational.

At the same time the United States consults at NATO and
with allies on defending against long-range missile threats,
the Pentagon said, the alliance is developing a program to
address threats from shorter-range missiles as well. Spain and
Italy could be candidates for hosting parts of a system to
guard against shorter-range missiles, officials said.