US reassures Poland over missile defense changes

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WARSAW, Poland (AP) - A U.S. plan to deploy missile defense interceptors to Poland and Romania has been a source of assurance to Washington's allies, who welcome further integration in a key U.S. security system. Meanwhile, it has infuriated Russia, which sees the interceptors as a threat and has cited them to block cooperation on nuclear arms reductions and other issues.

So some might have expected the Russians to be relieved and the Poles to express anxiety at a new plan announced last week by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, which effectively cancels plans to put long-term interceptors in Poland in the next decade.

But on Monday, the Russians said they still weren't happy and Polish officials were saying almost nothing, a possible indication that they are relieved that shorter-range missiles, at least, will still be deployed to Poland in the next five years. Romanians also haven't complained, noting merely that U.S. missile defense interceptors will still be deployed there in 2015, as planned.

"We feel no euphoria in connection with what was announced by the U.S. defense secretary and we see no grounds for correcting our position," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in comments carried Monday by the Kommersant newspaper. "This is not a concession to Russia and we do not see it as such."

Russia has complained about the U.S. plan, with the Kremlin saying it believes it is aimed against Russia's missile program. Washington adamantly denies that and says the system is meant to stop missiles from Iran and North Korea.

The U.S. missile defense plans for Europe involve building up the system in four phases, with shorter- and medium-range interceptors to be deployed in the first three phases, and longer-range interceptors meant for the fourth phase.

Phase one of the system has already been deployed, with anti-missile interceptors on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea. Phase two is to include interceptors in Romania in 2015, then interceptors in Poland will be deployed starting in 2018 as part of phase three.

However, the fourth stage has not yet been funded by Congress, and there are indications the technology of the long-term interceptors _ which theoretically could have protected U.S. territory from Poland _ is not ready.

U.S. officials visiting Warsaw on Monday sought to reassure Poland that the cancellation of the final stage will not sideline the country and was not made to appease Russia.

"For Poland there is no change, because the phase-three system, which was always planned to be in Poland, is still now planned to be in Poland," Madelyn Creedon, the U.S. assistant defense secretary for global strategic affairs, told The Associated Press. "It's funded, it's committed. That was our original plan and we haven't changed it."

Wendy Sherman, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, also said in Warsaw that the Polish site "will go forward as scheduled."

Past efforts by President Barack Obama's administration to alter the missile defense program have sparked criticism in Poland. Poland's main aim in having the U.S. interceptors has been to have an American military presence on Polish soil in the belief it will increase the country's security, particularly given fears that Russia could one day try to dominate the region again.

During a news conference in Warsaw along with a Polish diplomat, Sherman was asked by a Polish reporter if the move was meant to mollify Russia. In her answer, she noted that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told his Polish counterpart of the decision before announcing it publicly _ a courtesy not extended to Moscow.

"Russia was only notified after those calls," Sherman said.

The U.S. missile defense system at Romania's Deveselu military base is not affected either and will become operational in 2015 as planned, the Romanian defense ministry said Monday.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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