Polish Prime Minister Seeks To Ease Missile Shield Fears

APTusk, left, visiting Friday the site of the future U.S. base in Redzikowo.
REDZIKOWO, Poland — Poland's prime minister sought to reassure worried residents near the site of a planned U.S. missile-defense base on Friday, pledging that they and the country would be more secure despite threats from Russia.

Before facing residents at a town hall meeting in the city of Slupsk, Prime Minister Donald Tusk visited the former Polish air base in Redzikowo — just 180 kilometers from Russia's westernmost edge — that is to host the facility. "In case of war, Redzikowo and Slupsk will be more secure than other places and not less secure," Tusk told reporters.

Still, some people in Slupsk — a city of 100,000 about five kilometers away — needed more convincing.

One person at the three-hour meeting in a theater could be heard shouting, "You condemned Redzikowo and Slupsk to annihilation like Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

Tusk countered that "from the point of view of Poland's interests, we will be strategically more secure."

"I am the last person to seek conflict with our neighbors, but as prime minister I must not leave Poland defenseless," said Tusk, whose calm approach gradually quieted what started as a heated gathering.

Poland and the United States reached a deal in August on building the site for 10 U.S. missile-defense interceptors by 2012. The United States says the installation is meant to protect Europe and America from attacks from Iran. But Russian officials say they consider the site a threat and have threatened to attack Poland — possibly even with nuclear weapons.

City councilor Bronislaw Nowak asked Tusk: "Can you deny that, having the shield base, Redzikowo will be target No. 1 for countries that don't agree with it?"

Tusk replied that U.S. investment in the site guaranteed it would be well protected in the unlikely event of a conflict.

Asked why he was so trustful of the United States, Tusk replied, "I prefer to have here American troops rather than Soviet troops." The remark drew applause.