July 9, 2008 / 4:59 PM / 11 years ago

US prefers Poland as shield site but has options

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States continues to focus on Poland as a prospective site for part of its anti-missile defence shield but also has other options if a deal proves elusive, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Washington favours a plan to locate 10 interceptor missiles in Poland despite Warsaw’s rejection on Friday of a U.S. offer to reach an agreement.

“Until you have a deal, you don’t have anything. We’re continuing to work: that’s our preference. But it’s not the only option out there, either,” Whitman said.

His comments came a day after the United States and the Czech Republic signed a deal to place the shield’s missile-tracking radar on Czech soil, a development that raised an angry new protest from Russia.

The United States says the missile shield is necessary to protect America and its European allies against an emerging threat from countries in the Middle East, including Iran, which test-fired nine missiles on Wednesday. Iran said the tests were a warning of retaliation against the United States and Israel for any attack over its disputed nuclear projects.

Russia, acutely sensitive to any Western military buildup near its borders, says the missile shield project is a direct threat to its security and has threatened to point missiles at the Czech Republic and Poland if the deployment goes ahead.

Whitman declined to say what options Washington might consider instead of Poland. The Baltic republic of Lithuania, northeast of Poland, has been suggested an alternative site for the interceptors.

U.S. officials last week said they thought talks with Warsaw were about to bear fruit, but Poland then spurned a U.S. offer to boost its air defences in return for agreeing to base the anti-missile interceptors on its soil.

The decision by Warsaw, a staunch NATO ally, was seen as a setback for the Bush administration.

Warsaw has sought billions of dollars in U.S. investment to upgrade its air defences in exchange for its participation. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the U.S. proposal did not sufficiently increase the level of Polish security.

“We appeared to be making good progress but we’re not there yet,” Whitman said on Wednesday.

“We have always said that there are other options. Our emphasis and energy have been going toward and are going toward working with the government of Poland, right now.”

After he spoke, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said in Warsaw an agreement could be reached within two weeks, but “the Polish point of view has to be respected.”

Reporting by David Morgan and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Jackie Frank

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