U.S. hopes for quick approval of Polish missile deal
WARSAW (Reuters) - A top U.S. general said on Wednesday he hoped the United States and Poland could both ratify accords on a controversial missile defence shield by the end of the year, but Warsaw said it might need more time.
The two countries signed a deal in August on stationing 10 U.S. interceptor rockets on Polish soil as part of a global system that Washington says will be able to shoot down missiles from "rogue" states or militant groups such as al Qaeda.
Lawmakers in the two NATO allies must still endorse the deal, which has been condemned by Russia as a direct threat to its own national security.
"We would like to see ... both agreements (in each nation) ratified by the end of this calendar year so that we can begin construction late next year or early 2010 and so that we can put the first interceptors in the ground in 2012," Lieutenant General Henry Obering told a news conference.
Obering, who heads the U.S. missile defence agency, was speaking during a visit to Redzikowo in northern Poland, where the base will be located.
But Poland wants to ratify related agreements at the same time as the shield accord, Deputy Defence Minister Stanislaw Komorowski said.
"The Polish government holds the view that all the agreements must be presented for parliamentary ratification together," Stanislaw Komorowski said.
"I have doubts on whether this can happen by the end of the year. But we won't delay the process unnecessarily."
Poland is still in talks with Washington on a status of forces agreement (SOFA) governing legal aspects of the missile shield and also on the stationing of Patriot missiles.
Under the August deal, Warsaw won a pledge from Washington to station a battery of Patriots on its soil as defence against a possible short-range attack that Poland fears.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said recently he was confident that either U.S. presidential candidate would push on with the shield agreement once elected. U.S. voters elect a new president next week.
(Writing by Gabriela Baczynska and Gareth Jones; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
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