KRAKOW, Poland -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday that Russian concerns will be taken into consideration as the Obama administration decides the fate of planned missile defense bases in Eastern Europe.
Gates said at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Krakow that Obama's team has not yet decided whether to continue the Bush administration's plans to put bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, a plan that has outraged Russia.
Washington maintains the planned sites are meant to defend the U.S. and Europe from possible missile launches from the Mideast, but Russia has said the system could upset the traditional balance of power. Russia has proposed working with the U.S. setting up a joint missile defense system.
Gates said the Obama administration "has not yet looked comprehensively at its policies with respect to Russia," but added it was time to improve ties, citing Vice President Joe Biden's recent comments at the Munich Security Conference.
"I would, though, reiterate what Vice President Biden said at Munich -- that this administration does believe the time has come to reset the relationship with Russia and move forward," Gates said.
Gates said Washington would now review the missile defense plan "in the context of our relationship with both Poland and the Czech Republic, our relationship with the NATO alliance, the commitments we have made as members of the alliance in terms of European missile defense -- and also in the context of our relationship with the Russians."
Meantime, Gates says he "asked the Polish leaders for a little time for the administration to be able to do that."
Both Polish and Czech governments have signed deals with the U.S. accepting the sites, and NATO has also given its stamp of approval to the Europe-based U.S. shield.
Following his meeting with Gates on Thursday, Poland's Defense Minister Bogdan Klich indicated that Warsaw was willing to give Washington time, but that it hoped the missile defense system to go ahead.
"We have to wait as the American administration works out its view on the future of the missile defense project," Klich said.
"What's left for us to do: To underline and remind people that Poland accepted the American proposal, that last year a deal was signed ... and that the agreement binds both sides, and I stressed that during today's talks," Klich said on TVN24 television.