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ARLINGTON, Va. – In seeking to host a U.S. base, Poland has some leverage: It and the Czech Republic are the only two countries willing to host a U.S. missile defense site, which U.S. planners would like to see installed as soon as 2011.

The space-based interceptors are supposed to protect the U.S. and its allies against nuclear or nonnuclear long-range missiles fired by from rogue states such as North Korea and Iran. Nine interceptors have been installed at Fort Greely in Alaska, and two at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Civil protests against the site in the Czech Republic broke out in July, and four out of five of the country’s parliamentary parties have declared their opposition to housing the system. A national referendum is scheduled on the issue.

The way is not clear in Poland, either, however. The possible deployment of interceptors would represent the first permanent U.S. military presence in the country.

“Russia has very frankly communicated its unhappiness to us, the prospect of the U.S. planting a missile defense base in Poland,” Polish defense minister Radoslaw Sikorski said Sept. 13.

Russia hasn’t just spoken, it acted, Sikorski noted. This summer, the Russian defense minister announced that Belarus — supposedly an independent state — was moving an S-300 anti-aircraft defense system to its border with Poland.

“We respect Belarus’ right to have anti-aircraft defenses,” Sikorski said. “We’re somewhat surprised they have been put right on our border … [and] we did find a little strange the announcement was made by the defense minister of a third country.”

Poland, Sikorski said, feels trapped in the middle.

“Clearly, we have to take this Russian view, a power neighbor of ours, into account. And that makes us even more insistent on a package of measures that would hypothetically come with a missile defense base, if the U.S. asks for it.”

Pentagon leaders have not made a decision on which European country should host the missile base, a Pentagon spokesman, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, said Sept. 14. “And any decision would have to be followed by much more detailed negotiations.”

But if Poland is tapped, as a democracy “we have to win a vote for it in the court of public opinion and in our Parliament,” Sikorski said. “We have to persuade our people that Poland’s security, overall, will increase as the result of such a U.S. facility.”

Asked if the U.S. should “sweeten the pot” by offering base facilities, Sikorski laughed.

“I couldn’t have put it better myself,” he said.

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