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Kerry visits Poland, discusses NSA spying, plus military and economic collaboration

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that radar components of a U.S. missile defense system are to be deployed in Poland in 2018. What will be deployed are 24 SM-3 ballistic-missile interceptors. The article has been updated.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry, left, is pictured with the Polish Air Force’s Lech Majewski in front of an F-16 during Kerry’s visit to Lask Air Force Base, Nov. 5, 2013. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

The United States welcomes conversations with allies to alleviate their concerns about National Security Agency spying, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said here Tuesday.

“We’re all in this together . . . and we have to strike the right balance between protecting our citizens and, obviously, protecting the privacy of our citizens,” Kerry said at a news conference with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski.

His visit to Warsaw marks a brief European detour during an 11-day trip to the Middle East and North Africa.

“We will work very closely with our friends in order to make sure the road ahead is understood and is mutually agreed upon,” Kerry said of European complaints about the NSA eavesdropping programs disclosed in recent news reports.

Unlike many of his European counterparts, Sikorski appeared to have little concern about the spy programs.

Poland has not been named among the NSA target nations. Asked whether he had inquired about that possibility in his talks with Kerry, Sikorski said only that the two had “agreed on close consultation among our services on combating common threats.”

The Obama administration pledged to provide high-level explanations to European allies when the surveillance story, based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, broke in the summer. But those consultations began in earnest only last week, with the visit of a senior German delegation to the White House.

Kerry also welcomed Polish support in nascent U.S. negotiations with Europe over a transatlantic trade accord and said he did not expect those talks to be influenced by the eavesdropping controversy.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, Kerry said, “should not be confused with whatever legitimate questions exist with respect to the NSA and other activities.”

“We want to hear from our allies. We want to have this conversation” about intelligence, Kerry said. “Ultimately, if we get it right, which we will, we can not only alleviate concerns, we can actually strengthen our relationships going forward.”

Kerry’s one-day visit to Poland provided a respite after difficult conversations Sunday in Egypt and Monday in Saudi Arabia. The chief U.S. diplomat was scheduled to visit Poland’s Lask Air Base, where a small U.S. aviation detachment has been facilitating training on Polish-purchased ­C-130 transports and F-16 fighter jets.

Poland, one of the few countries in Europe that has not been deeply affected by the global recession, maintains close military and defense sales ties with the United States. The U.S. Air Force contingent, deployed here in December, “constitutes the first invited, enduring presence of foreign troops in Poland’s modern history,” a State Department release noted.

Poland is also the site where 24 U.S. ballistic-missile interceptors are to be deployed in 2018.

Kerry flew Tuesday evening to Israel, where he will focus on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Karen DeYoung is associate editor and senior national security correspondent for the Washington Post.

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