Poland's government gave formal approval to a missile defense deal with the U.S. on Tuesday before a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the deputy prime minister said.
Grzegorz Schetyna said Prime Minister Donald Tusk's Cabinet signed off on the deal for Poland to host 10 missile interceptors at its regular weekly meeting.
It was the first of several steps required after negotiators last week reached an agreement following about 1 1/2 years of talks. The deal still needs parliamentary and presidential approval.
Those are expected to be formalities because both Tusk's Civic Platform party and the main opposition Law and Justice, linked to President Lech Kaczynski, support the deal.
Rice was due in Warsaw late Tuesday, and was to sign the deal alongside Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski and in the presence of Polish leaders on Wednesday morning.
The negotiators reached agreement in Warsaw during Russia's military offensive in the former Soviet republic of Georgia last week.
Russia warns Poland
Russia also threatened that Poland — a former Soviet satellite — risked attack after agreeing to allow the U.S. missile defense facility on its soil.
Moscow says the U.S. installations in Poland will target Russia, but Washington strongly denies that — arguing that the system is designed to protect the U.S. and Europe against threats from countries like Iran, and would in any case be powerless against Russia's arsenal of missiles.
In light of Poland's security concerns, the missile defense deal also provides for Patriot missiles to be placed in Poland.
In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer used unusually strong language to denounce Russian threats against Poland.
"It is pathetic rhetoric," he told reporters. "It is unhelpful and it leads nowhere."
He said there is no need to review NATO's defensive arrangements for Poland in the light of the Russian threats, and noted that Poland is "a staunch NATO member."
The U.S. has already reached an agreement with the government in Prague to place the second component of the missile defense shield — a radar system — in the Czech Republic, Poland's southwestern neighbor and another formerly communist country.
That deal still needs approval from Czech parliament.