Poland’s foreign minister said on Wednesday he is trying to glean which way US President-elect Barack Obama is leaning on US missile defence plans in Europe. Radek Sikorski is meeting with Democrats this week, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Obama tapped Albright to meet foreign leaders as a representative of his transition team at last week’s global financial summit. Sikorski also plans to meet US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday.
“I think what we now need is a sense of where the new administration is going,’’ he said. “We think that this transition time is important for our interests because we signed with the current administration an agreement on missile defence and obviously we want to know where the wind is blowing on that.’’
Poland and the Czech Republic have signed a deal with the United States to allow parts of a US missile defence system on their soil, but neither parliament has approved the plan. The Czech parliament appears to be more sceptical, but Sikorski said he would be optimistic of approval there if the newly elected US administration signals that the project will be continued.
“I think the Czechs will also be encouraged once they know what the new administration wants,’’ he said.
The US plans have roiled relations with Russia. Moscow has threatened to move short-range missiles close to Poland’s borders and target Warsaw and Prague.
Obama has not yet indicated whether he will pursue the plans that call for a radar in the Czech Republic and interceptors in Poland. He said this year during his election campaign that the system would require much more vigorous testing to ensure it would work and justify the billions of dollars it would cost.
With or without the interceptors, the United States is set to deploy a separate short-range Patriot anti-missile system in Poland next year that will include a small garrison of US troops, a move that Poland pushed for in the deal. Sikorski said that the US presence will improve Poland’s security. “The working assumption is that on the whole countries with US troops on them don’t get invaded,’’ he said.
The tension with Moscow, has led some Europeans to question the benefit of the missile defence plan. The United States says the radar-missile project is aimed at countering a threat from Iran, not Russia. Last week, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the system would not improve European security. He also proposed a pan-European security conference next year to include Russia, which has suggested that Europe’s security needs to be reorganised.
“A strategic discussion with Russia is a good thing if Russia wants to tell us what is on her mind and what would make her a constructive member of the broad West,’’ Sikorski said. “If the idea is to find a clever way to undermine Nato and get the Americans out of Europe, then we are against it.’’