Page last updated at 18:39 GMT, Thursday, 17 September 2009 19:39 UK

Polish hopes shot down by US move

By Adam Easton
BBC News, Warsaw

Condoleezza Rice and Radek Sikorski 20.8.08
Poland and the US signed the missile defence deal last year

For Polish supporters of the Bush administration's missile defence system it was a disappointing day.

For the Polish government and particularly the country's president, Lech Kaczynski, the deal signed in August last year was important because it would have strengthened the country's security by binding Poland and the US closer together.

The agreement would have created a US military base on Polish soil equipped with 10 long-range interceptor missiles and manned by American soldiers.

Mr Kaczynski said the government had made "serious mistakes" in its handling of the affair.

Aleksander Szczyglo, head of the National Security Council and friend of the president, called it a "historic mistake" on the part of the Americans, which demonstrated a failure of their long-term thinking about Central and Eastern Europe.

For some here it looked as if Russia - which vehemently opposes US bases in Eastern Europe as a threat to its own security - had got its way and Poland had not even been consulted about the change of plans beforehand.

'Bad signal'

"It's a very bad signal for Poland. The Russians are supposed to have a say in issues concerning this part of Europe. It is in Poland's interests to get out and stay away from the Russian sphere of influence," Mr Szczyglo told the news website

Under the revised plan, Poland could still host mobile land-based SM3 missiles from 2015.

For Bartosz Weglarczyk, foreign editor of the leading Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, a supporter of the base, that is a much worse solution.

"Poland wanted a permanent US military installation in this part of Europe because it would mean the real end of the iron curtain," he told the BBC.

"We are second class members of Nato. Nato doesn't even have contingency plans for this part of Europe. Having a US military base in Poland would have changed this."

Polish-US relations have been re-orientated
Polish MP Jaroslaw Kalinowski

Mr Weglarczyk said the decision was the most important change in Polish-US relations since communism fell in Poland in 1989.

"Nothing will be the same. I think we will have to look at the US from the European perspective and focus on European issues," he said.

Poland has been one of the most pro-US nations in Europe during the past 20 years, partly thanks to Washington's support for the pro-democracy Solidarity movement in the 1980s.

But in a recent survey on European attitudes to current US foreign policy, just 55% of Poles said they approved of it, compared to 92% in Germany and 88% in France.

The government, which signed the missile defence agreement last year, refused to view the turn of events as a failure.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who spoke to President Obama by phone on Thursday, said it had even opened the way for closer US-Polish co-operation.

"In the future there is a chance to strengthen Polish-US co-operation in defence," he said.

"I took this declaration from President Obama very seriously and with great satisfaction."

Patriots pledged

Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said Washington would stick to its pledge made last August to deploy short-range Patriot missiles on Polish soil from next year.

The pledge was contained in a separate "political declaration" to the missile defence agreement. Warsaw fought hard to get them included in the deal because it believes the threats to its security are much closer to home than Iran.

However, the main opposition party Law and Justice accused the government of not doing enough to convince Washington of its support and worth. One of its MPs, Karol Karski, said the government should resign.

"Polish-US relations have been re-orientated. The Donald Tusk cabinet proved unable to convince the US to treat Poland as one of its more important European allies," he added.

Jaroslaw Kalinowski, an MP for coalition member the Polish People's Party, said no Polish government could have influenced the decision because it was made in Washington.

"The US should continue to be our important partner, but we are an EU member state and we should give up any illusions we can enjoy special privileges over and above the EU," he said.

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