Polish and Russian officials on Thursday held high-level talks on a U.S. plan to build a missile defense base in Poland, while the Czech prime minister said his government could finalize a deal on its part of the project as soon as April.
Poland's new government appears cooler toward the plan than its predecessor, and Prime Minister Donald Tusk refused during a visit to Prague on Thursday to put a timeline on a possible deal.
Tusk's government has vowed to consult with Russia on the U.S. proposal to place 10 interceptor missiles in Poland, which Moscow says would pose a threat to its security. The plan also calls for a radar base in the Czech Republic.
In Warsaw, Poland's chief missile defense negotiator, Witold Waszczykowski, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak exchanged views on the U.S. proposal and discussed how to counter current and emerging security threats.
"We are holding consultations, expressing our opinions, requesting Russia's opinions, and exchanging arguments and assessments of the American idea," Waszczykowski said.
"We are not talking about Russian agreement to missile defense."
Kislyak was also slated to meet with Poland's foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, during the one-day visit to Warsaw.
Washington says the missile defense system is needed to protect the U.S. and Europe from so-called rogue states like Iran.
Russia, however, has argued that an installation so close to its territory would threaten its security, and has warned it could target the base with its own missiles.
Poles 'curious' about Russian views
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who was in Prague for talks with his Czech counterpart, Mirek Topolanek, said that "an exchange of information and intentions is needed from all those interested in the region."
"We are curious what type of questions and opinions every country in the region has, including Russia," said Tusk.
Poland's interest in the U.S. proposal only further strained already difficult ties with Russia, and Thursday's meeting is being held as Poland, a member of the European Union and NATO, works to improve ties with its increasingly assertive neighbor.
Topolanek, meanwhile, told reporters his government could reach an agreement with the U.S. on accepting a radar base as soon as this spring.
"In an ideal case ... we'll be able to submit the treaties to parliament some time after the NATO summit in Bucharest in the course of April or later," Topolanek said.
No timeline for a deal
Poland and the Czech Republic opened negotiations with the U.S. early last year. Topolanek's government has voiced more enthusiasm for the project than that of Tusk, who succeeded Jaroslaw Kaczynski as prime minister in November.
On Thursday, Tusk refused to put a timeline on a possible deal with the U.S., saying Poland will reach an agreement with the U.S when Warsaw "gets financing and security guarantees."
"Whether it's a Wednesday or a Friday, April or October is of secondary importance," he said.
Asked whether Warsaw wanted to reach a deal before U.S. President Bush leaves office in January 2009, Tusk said "we are not delaying anything or trying to speed it up."
"We do not want to wait with this until the change of the U.S. administration," he said. "We are only saying that, perhaps, if the negotiations do not bring an effect, the timeline will be extended."
Tusk did not elaborate on what guarantees he had in mind, but Poland's defense minister said Wednesday that Washington should strengthen Poland's short and mid-range air defenses by giving Warsaw Patriot or THAAD missiles.