Obama team urges Polish patience on shield

The United States urged Poland Thursday to be patient over a missile defence deal it inked with Washington while President Barack Obama's team reviews the controversial multi-billion dollar shield.

"What I told the defense minister today is that they have to give us a little more time to review these things," US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said at a NATO meeting in Krakow, southern Poland.

Gates said no final decision on the shield, which has enraged Russia, has yet been made.

"Between the economic crisis, Afghanistan and Iraq the administration has not yet reviewed where it is on a whole range of issues including relationships with our allies, the missile defense program, the relationship with the Russians."

Former president George W. Bush launched plans to extend the US missile shield into Europe, basing 10 interceptors in Poland linked to a radar in the Czech Republic to counter any threat from "rogue states," primarily Iran.

But Obama's administration has begun a review of the project's costs and technical feasibility, a move which has eased fears in Russia that the shield was aimed at it.

Polish Defence Minister Bogdan Klich said talks with Washington on implementing the deal, and in particular the stationing of US Patriot missiles in Poland, were ongoing.

"We must be patient and wait until the new administration in Washington will end the ongoing review and we will receive a clearer and forward looking position," Klich said after talks with Gates.

"I reminded him (Gates) that the agreements that were signed last year should be implemented," Klich told AFP after the meeting.

Klich however said talks at deputy ministerial level on technical aspects of the controversial US plan -- the benefits Poland stood to gain from the deal -- "are on track."

The minister told AFP there was no delay "on the topic of the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) supplemental agreement; we are speaking about implementation deals on the (missile) base agreement and the topic of locating American Patriot missiles in Poland."

Earlier Thursday Gates reiterated the Obama administration's position on the missile shield.

"We are concerned about the Iranian missile threat and as long as that threat exists we will continue to pursue missile defense, as long as we know it will work and as long as it is cost effective.

"But we will pursue it not only with our NATO allies but also with the Russians."

The August 14, 2008 missile defence deal inked by Washington and Warsaw sparked outrage in Moscow which threatened to aim its own missiles at the planned US installations in Europe.

Washington had wanted the Polish and Czech installations up and running by 2011-2013, to complete its system already in place in the United States, Greenland and Britain.

Washington insists the shield -- endorsed by NATO at it's February 2008 summit -- is in no way aimed at Russia.

The United States warns that Iran could develop long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads by 2015-2017.

Quoted by the Czech CTK agency in Washington earlier this month, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg suggested the Czech radar facility was likely to be delayed for three years while the Obama review was conducted.

"Czechs will fully understand it if the US administration puts off the construction of the radar base by three years. We will not be basically opposed to this," Schwarzenberg said.

Missile defence is expected to figure high on the agenda of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a planned visit to Poland in the next few months, his first in seven years.

In late January, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said he was confident Russia would freeze a move to deploy missiles in the Kaliningrad region, on Warsaw's doorstep, in retaliation for the US deployment in Poland.

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