WARSAW, Poland – Poland will only sign up to accept a U.S. missile defense base if Washington gives significant help to modernizing Poland's military, the Polish defense minister said in comments published Saturday.
"As long as we cannot sign an agreement about a satisfactory contribution by the Americans to the modernization of our armed forces, we can't talk about our agreeing to an American installation on our territory," Bogdan Klich was quoted as saying in an interview with the daily Polska.
Washington wants to place 10 missile defense interceptors in Poland and a radar system in neighboring Czech Republic as part of a global system it says is necessary to protect the U.S. and Europe against future attacks from Iran.
Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said in Washington three weeks ago that Poland and the U.S. had reached an agreement in principle after he received assurances that the U.S. would help Poland strengthen its short- to medium-range air defenses.
The two sides did not elaborate, and it remained unclear whether the United States had made specific promises to provide air defense systems. Polish officials have pressed for Patriot or THAAD missiles.
Klich reiterated that Poland's main expectations concerning U.S. aid are tied to air defense, but added that Warsaw has also identified 17 areas where its military needs an upgrade.
"I believe that in this range of possibilities the Americans have a chance to find somewhere" to help, Klich was quoted as saying. Negotiations on the missile shield site and the eventual U.S. role in strengthening Poland's military continue and "must end at the same time," he added.
He also acknowledged that new threats may emerge if Warsaw agrees to accept the 10 interceptors, but said Poland would benefit from being tied into the U.S. defense system.
"You don't generally mess with the strong, but the weak you can give a kick to," Klich was quoted as saying. "If you stand by the strong, it pays off. And that would be the positive result of the American presence in Poland."
Russia strongly opposes the prospect of U.S. installations in a region that it controlled during the Cold War and has threatened to attack the bases, causing deep anxiety in Poland.
The U.S. and Poland opened negotiations early last year on the base. Klich declined to give a date for a possible final deal.