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Page last updated at 10:35 GMT, Wednesday, 20 August 2008 11:35 UK

US and Poland seal missile deal

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The signing of the US and Polish defence agreement

The US and Poland have signed a deal to locate part of the US's controversial missile defence system on Polish soil.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice travelled to Warsaw for the ceremony, after 18 months of negotiations.

The deal has angered Russia, which has warned the base could become a target for a nuclear strike.

Washington says the system will protect the US and much of Europe against missile attacks from "rogue elements" in the Middle East such as Iran.

The agreement, which has yet to be ratified by the Polish parliament, was signed by Ms Rice and Poland's Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski.

'Aimed at no-one'

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the negotiations had been "tough, but friendly", adding that the deal would make both Poland and the US more secure.

INTERCEPTOR MISSILES
A ground-based interceptor is test launched in California (Image: Missile Defense Agency)
Look like ordinary missiles, but warheads are not loaded
Intended to destroy target with kinetic energy
Closing speed at interception is 24,000km/h (15,000mph)

Ms Rice said the signing of the document was an extraordinary occasion, adding that the agreement would help Nato, Poland and the US respond to "the threats of the 21st Century".

Speaking during the signing ceremony at the presidential palace in Warsaw, she emphasised that the missile system was "defensive and aimed at no-one".

While Washington believes placing 10 interceptor missiles on a disused military base near Poland's Baltic Sea coast will protect much of Nato against possible long-range attacks, Warsaw sees threats much closer to home, says the BBC's Adam Easton in Warsaw.

That is why it demanded - in exchange for hosting the base - short-range Patriot missiles for its own air defences and a guarantee that the US will come to its assistance in the event of an attack, our correspondent adds.

Moscow infuriated

The demands had delayed the deal's completion, but the conflict in Georgia gave the negotiations more impetus, says the BBC's Kim Ghattas, who is travelling with Ms Rice.

Both the US and Poland say the system is not aimed against Russia.

But the agreement has infuriated Moscow, our correspondent adds.

Russia's deputy chief of general staff, Gen Anatoly Nogovitsyn, said last week the plans for a missile base in Poland "could not go unpunished".

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For Poland this is sheer folly to become a pawn in the battle between the US and Russia
John Li, Hong Kong

"It is a cause for regret that at a time when we are already in a difficult situation, the American side further exacerbates the situation in relations between the United States and Russia," he said.

Moscow has argued the project will upset the military balance in Europe and has warned it will be forced to redirect its missiles at Poland.

But Polish President Lech Kaczynski stressed the missile defence shield was purely a defensive system and not a threat.

"For that reason, no-one who has good intentions towards us and towards the Western world should be afraid of it," he said on Wednesday.

Before the conflict in Georgia there was a reasonable amount of popular opposition in Poland to the missile defence deal.

But new surveys show that for the first time a majority of Poles support it, with 65% expressing fear of Russia.

Hitting a bullet

The interceptors look like ordinary missiles, stored in silos, with highly automated warheads that are not loaded with any explosives.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (L) and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski sign the US missile defence agreement in Warsaw, Poland, 20 August 2008
The agreement was signed by Condoleezza Rice and Radek Sikorski

If fired, the missile is intended to home in on and destroy its target, above the atmosphere, due to the kinetic energy of the collision.

But the closing speed of interceptor and target will be 24,000km/h (15,000mph), making the task more difficult than hitting a bullet with another bullet.

The US has spent more than $100bn (£54bn) in the last two decades on its controversial project to develop defences against ballistic missiles.

Critics say that, despite all that money, the Pentagon still has not proved the system can work in realistic conditions.

Last month, the US signed an agreement with the Czech Republic to base tracking radars there as part of the defence system.

Washington wants the sites to be in operation by about 2012.

US missile defences






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