By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 21, 2008
WARSAW, Aug. 20 -- The United States and Poland signed an agreement here Wednesday to place parts of a U.S. missile defense system on Polish territory, finalizing a long-negotiated deal in the face of Russian warnings that Poland would become a potential target for attack.
At a signing ceremony with the Polish political leadership, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the system, which will place 10 missile interceptors and more than 100 U.S. troops here, will "help us to respond to the threats of the 21st century."
The agreement, suddenly concluded after 18 months of negotiations, came at a time of heightened tensions between Russia and the NATO alliance over the war in Georgia. NATO on Tuesday said it will suspend "business as usual" with Russia after its invasion of its southern neighbor.
Despite pledges from Moscow that it would withdraw its troops, Rice said there was little sign Wednesday that the Russians are ending what NATO has called their "occupation" of Georgia. German and French officials voiced similar charges Wednesday that there was no sign that a withdrawal had begun in earnest.
In a continuation of tit-for-tat rhetoric over Georgia, Moscow said Wednesday that it will "freeze all military cooperation with NATO and allied countries," according to a statement by the Norwegian Defense Ministry reported by the Associated Press. Norway, a NATO member, said it had received a telephone call from the Russian Defense Ministry.
The Polish-based interceptor rockets, along with a radar installation to be based in the Czech Republic, will provide a European base for a defense system the Bush administration has insisted is not aimed at Russia but at "rogue states" such as Iran.
John Rood, undersecretary of state for arms control and nonproliferation, negotiated the Polish deal, and said there was no direct correlation between the timing of the missile defense agreement and the situation in Georgia. But "obviously," he said, it was finalized within a "certain environment."
In comments to reporters, Rice said that she and other officials had "personally talked with the Russians many times" about measures the United States could take to demonstrate that the system is intended to counter "small missile threats of the kind that Iran or North Korea might impose, and not aimed in any way at Russia."
Russia contends that the system would allow the United States to peer deep into its airspace and could be the precursor to a larger system that would be effective against Russia's huge strategic missile arsenal.
A senior Russian general, Anatoly Nogovitsyn, said last week that it was "100 percent certain" Poland was "making itself a target" by entering into the agreement. The interceptors reportedly will be based in northern Poland about 800 miles from Moscow.
As part of the missile deal, the written text that the two sides signed said the United States will provide "substantial assistance to support Poland's military modernization efforts," including a battery of four Patriot missiles and a U.S. troop contingent. The Warsaw government made clear that it wants the Patriots as a defense against possible aggression from Moscow.