Poland's PM Tusk in Prague: "it's not a race" to get US missiles

Donald Tusk, photo: CTK

The delicate issue of US missile defences in Central Europe was on the agenda when Poland's prime minister Donald Tusk arrived in Prague for talks with his Czech counterpart Mirek Topolanek. Washington wants to build a launching pad for ten interceptor missiles in Poland, to work in tandem with an early warning radar system across the border in the Czech Republic. But Mr Tusk is not as fervently pro-American as his predecessor Jaroslaw Kacynski, and Prague and Warsaw are beginning to look slightly out of step on missile defence.

Donald Tusk,  photo: CTK
Recent remarks by members of the new Polish government have led some to claim Poland is backpeddling on missile defence. Certainly Mr Tusk’s government is taking a tougher line on the issue. Polish Defence Minister Bogdan Klich told the Reuters news agency that Poland would not host the missile defence base unless Washington commits to boost Polish air defences. Meanwhile Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski has said that Warsaw was in no rush to make any decision before the U.S. elections, as a new administration might well put the project on the back burner. So does all this amount to delaying tactics? Donald Tusk says it doesn’t.

“I’d like to stress that as far as the Polish side is concerned this is not a race against time. The decisive thing for us is a satisfactory outcome of the talks – both for the Polish side and for the Czech side, and mainly what those talks produce in terms of security guarantees and financing. We’re not waiting, we’re not holding things back, neither are we trying to speed things up. If we get a satisfactory reply in the next few weeks then we’ll sign the treaty earlier. If the negotiations take longer then a result will come later, but this has nothing to do with the fact that the Bush administration’s term of office is coming to an end. It’s all in the hands of the U.S. administration.”

Both Mr Tusk and his Czech counterpart Mirek Topolanek stressed their positions on missile defence were identical, and far from diverging, as some have claimed. Mr Topolanek set out his country’s priorities.

Mirek Topolanek and Donald Tusk,  photo: CTK
“Ideally – and only if we manage to resolve everything in time – we will be able to present the treaties to parliament for ratification some time in April after the NATO summit in Bucharest. That’s the ideal scenario, but it might not work out like that, because the external influences – that means ensuring our requirements are fulfilled and completing the negotiations – could slow down the whole process. So we’re not setting ourselves any deadlines, and we’re being guided by the principle that quality is more important than speed.”

But drawing up a satisfactory treaty will be difficult. Mr Topolanek has a wafer-thin majority in parliament, and one of his coalition allies – the Green Party, has said it will only ratify the treaty if it explicitly states that the radar base will be part of a wider NATO defence system. Public opinion too is heavily against the proposal – the most recent poll, conducted by CVVM in December, found that 70 percent of Czechs opposed the plan, up from 68 percent in November, and just 23 percent were in favour.