Gates Meets With Polish Leaders
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WARSAW, Poland, April 24, 2007 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived here today to meet with President Lech Kaczynski and Minister of National Defense Aleksander Szczyglo and continue talks on European missile defense.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates participates in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Polish Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Marshal Jozef Pilsudski Square in Warsaw, Poland, April 24. Photo by Cherie A. Thurlby
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The visit here is the second leg of a three-day, three-country trip that began in Russia yesterday and will wind up in Germany tomorrow. Gates departed Washington a day after returning from a five-day trip to Jordan, Egypt, Israel and Iraq.
In Moscow, Gates met with President Vladimir Putin and other senior leaders to make the case for a cooperative, transparent approach to countering possible long-range missile attacks by rogue nations. Gates invited the Russians to become partners in the endeavor.
The secretary also announced the formation of a working group to address technical details and Russian concerns. Russian officials have been opposed to basing missile defense systems near its borders, but Gates said he came away from a day of meetings “cautiously optimistic.”
In keeping with the U.S. goal of transparency during the talks, Gates traveled from Moscow to Warsaw to brief Polish leaders on his talks with the Russians on the missile system deployment.
Arriving in Warsaw this afternoon, Gates placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Later in the afternoon, he met first with his Polish counterpart Szczyglo and then with Poland’s president.
U.S. defense officials have begun negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic to host long-range, ground-based interceptors and missile defense radar on their territories. These defense assets would counter possible missile attacks from such rogue nations as Iran or other sources in the Middle East or Southwest Asia.
While the Czech Republic has agreed to begin formal discussions about hosting the U.S. radar base, Poland has not yet agreed, a senior defense official traveling with the secretary said on background.
“This is an issue in Poland and in their domestic politics,” the official said. U.S. officials have begun a series of visits to discuss the possibility of hosting the interceptors.
“One of the great things about Poland that’s changed since 1989 is that it is a vibrant democracy,” he said. “It does have a political debate ongoing, and we want to ensure we can contribute to an informed political debate. We want to make sure all of the different parties in the parliament, as well as the government, understand the reasons we have for wanting to make this deployment.”
Two agreements need to be negotiated by the State Department, the senior official said. One will be a status-of-forces agreement, and the other will be specific agreement covering the site of the interceptors.
“We’ve got a very strong, bilateral defense and security relationship with Poland above and beyond this specific issue,” he said. “They’ve been involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom. They’ve just increased their contribution in the international security force (in) Afghanistan.”
Poland has just fewer than 1,000 troops in Iraq. This fall, Polish officials agreed to increase their contribution by sending a combat battalion to serve in the east. This unit is in the process of deploying.