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Polish support for missile deal with U.S. soars

/ Source: The Associated Press

Poland's foreign minister said the country's citizens "have the right to feel threatened" by Russian rhetoric over plans to install a U.S. missile defense base here, according to an interview published Monday.

Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski also believes NATO should take a stand on the matter, the interview in the Dziennik daily said.

A new poll, meanwhile, said Polish support for the missile defense pact with the U.S. has soared following Russia's military campaign in Georgia and its threats against Poland.

Negotiations between Washington and Warsaw on placing 10 missile interceptors in Poland began in early 2007. Both sides struck a deal last week during the Russia-Georgia conflict.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected in Poland this week to sign it.

A day after the deal, a leading Russian general warned that Poland was exposing itself to attack — even a nuclear one — by accepting the missile base.

On Sunday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Russian comments were "probably fairly empty rhetoric."

Sikorski, asked during the interview whether he considered the threats to be empty, replied: "To the contrary."

"If Russia threatens Poland, then we Poles have the right to feel threatened," he was quoted as saying. "But this type of statement from Russian generals is a problem for all of NATO and I expect the alliance to take a stand on this."

The signing ceremony with Rice will take place Wednesday, Sikorski said. Rice will fly to Warsaw after an emergency NATO meeting Tuesday in Brussels, Belgium, which Sikorski will attend.

Moscow fiercely opposes the missile defense deal, claiming that the planned U.S. system will target Russia. The U.S. strongly denies that, saying the system is designed to protect against threats from countries like Iran, and would in any case be powerless against Russia's arsenal of missiles.

In return for the deal, Poland won a U.S. promise to set up an additional garrison with a battery of Patriot missiles. Poland sought that system in hopes of protecting itself from a possible Russian threat.

The U.S. also plans to set up a linked radar installation in the Czech Republic.

According to the new poll, 58 percent of those surveyed support the missile defense plan — compared with 30 percent in March 2007, early on in the negotiations. The poll was published in the Rzeczpospolita daily.

It was the first time a majority of Poles surveyed have backed the U.S. missile defense plan, according to lead researcher Maciej Siejewicz from the Gfk Polonia polling agency.

The poll said 37 percent believe the deal is bad for Poland.

Gfk Polonia questioned 500 people Saturday, two days after the missile deal was struck and a day after the Russian general made his threat. The survey had a margin of error of up to 4.5 percentage points.