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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Poland Faces Pressure Over Missile Defense

WARSAW -- NATO's blessing of U.S. plans for a missile-defense system in Europe and signs it will get the tacit consent of Russia has put pressure on Poland to wrap up talks with Washington on hosting the hardware.

Poland has set tough conditions for agreeing to base 10 U.S. interceptor rockets on its soil, including that the United States spend billions of dollars on modernizing Polish air defenses.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk has also urged Washington to persuade Russia to drop its opposition, saying Warsaw can ill afford bad relations with Russia.

The final demand was that NATO endorse missile defense, after a number of Poland's European Union partners, who are also members of the alliance, reacted coolly to the idea. With the last two requirements seemingly satisfied after last week's NATO summit, Poland will now find it hard to back out without seriously harming relations with Washington, even if it does not get all the weaponry it wants, analysts said.

Diplomats said talks on the shield were making progress. A U.S. team arrived in Warsaw last week to reassess Poland's conditions, and more detailed talks will follow. They predict that the United States will meet Poland halfway on its demands, leaving Tusk with a dilemma -- whether to accept a slightly less attractive deal, or walk away with no new weapons and Poland's relationship with the United States badly damaged.

"Now when NATO has backed the plan and Russia seems to have reconciled itself to the idea, Poland has little choice but to accept the shield," said Zbigniew Lewicki, an expert on Polish-U.S. relations at the Warsaw University.

The U.S. administration is keen to finalize negotiations before President George W. Bush's term in office ends in January -- a fact some Polish officials believe gives them leverage to press their demands. Others believe Poland runs the risk of overplaying its hand and could see the deal slip away to another European country. They point out that the Czech Republic has agreed to host the second element of the shield without any military aid conditions.

Polish officials insist they will not scale down the long list of weapons they are seeking, including anti-missile Patriot batteries to shield Polish cities from a medium-range missile attack.

Analysts and diplomats said the U.S. side was ready to meet some Polish requests but sees others as unreasonable.

"Polish generals made some outlandish demands, but it is not even clear whether Poland really needs the stuff they asked for," a source familiar with the talks said.

The Patriots are a case in point because the Pentagon and even some Polish experts doubt Poland faces a risk of being shot at from the medium range.

"The Polish generals' argument is 'give us the toys and don't worry how we are going to use them,'" a diplomat familiar with the negotiations said.