Wed, Jul 14, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US mulls building missile shield for central Europe

DEFENSE NETWORK American officials have been in talks for months with Polish and Czech officials about radar and interceptor sites for a proposed missile shield


The US administration is negotiating with Poland and the Czech Republic over its controversial missile defense program, with a view to positioning the biggest missile defense site outside the US in central Europe.

Polish government officials have confirmed that talks have been going on with Washington for eight months and made clear that Poland was keen to take part in the project, which is supposed to shield the US and its allies from long-range ballistic missile attacks.

Senior officials in Prague also confirmed that talks were under way over the establishment of American advanced radar stations in the Czech Republic as part of the missile shield project.

"We're very interested in becoming a concrete part of the arrangement," said Boguslaw Majewski, the Polish foreign ministry spokesman. "We have been debating this with the Americans since the end of last year."

Other sources in Warsaw said Pentagon officers have been scouting the mountain territory of southern Poland.

As well as radar sites, the Poles say they want to host a missile interceptor site, a large reinforced underground silo from where long-range missiles would be launched to intercept and destroy incoming rockets.

Under Bush administration plans, two missile interceptor sites are being built in the US -- one in California, the other in Alaska. Such a site in Poland would be the first outside America and the only one in Europe.

"An interceptor site would be more attractive. It wouldn't be a hard sell in Poland," said Janusz Onyszkiewicz, a former Polish defense minister.

"This is a serious runner," said a west European diplomat in Warsaw. "It's pretty substantial. The Poles are very keen to have an interceptor site. They want a physical American presence on their territory. They wouldn't be paying anything. It would be a totally American facility."

"I knew about possible radar sites, but I was surprised to hear talk about missile silos," said another source in Warsaw.

In the Czech Republic, too, the proposed radar site, extending to 100km2, could be declared extraterritorial and a sovereign US base.

The talks are at the exploratory stage and no decisions have been taken, officials stressed. US officials played down talk of central European participation in the missile shield. But the confidential nature of the negotiations, being led on the US side by US Under-secretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton, has angered senior defense officials in the region who have been kept in the dark.

Milos Titz, deputy chairman of the Czech parliament's defense and security committee, learned of the talks last week and immediately called Defense minister Miroslav Kostelka to demand an explanation. According to the Czech Web newspaper, Britske Listy, Kostelka conceded to Titz that the talks were going ahead and promised to supply details to the committee this week.

According to the Washington-based think tank, the Arms Control Association, the Pentagon has already requested modest funding for preliminary studies on a third missile interceptor site based in Europe.

The Washington think tank reported last week that the US was also talking to Hungary about involvement in the missile shield.

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