5 November 2013
WARSAW—The U.S. said Tuesday it was going ahead with its missile-defense plans for Europe despite improving relations with Iran, one of the main threats the system is designed to counter.
The U.S. expects to put land-based missile interceptors in northern Poland by 2018, three years after a site in Romania is to become operational. The base in Poland will seek to protect Europe and the U.S. from ballistic missile attacks ballistic missile attacks that could be launched mainly from Iran.
On the only European stop of a weeklong tour focused on the Middle East, Secretary of State John Kerry was asked in Poland whether that element of the system could be abandoned, considering U.S. diplomacy and international talks with Iran over its nuclear program.
"There is no agreement with Iran," Mr. Kerry told a news conference in Warsaw. "Nothing has changed and the plans for missile defense are absolutely on target," he added.
"We intend to provide for the next phase by 2018 and will deploy that site by that period. Nothing has changed at this point and I don't foresee it changing."
A new round of nuclear talks between Iran and world powers is set for Thursday in Geneva. With Tehran under pressure to allow international inspection of its nuclear facilities, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said Tuesday that Iran had invited its director-general to visit the country and the invitation was under consideration.
During the visit, Kerry also pressed for a political solution to the civil war in Syria and said the U.S. hoped tensions with Europe over electronic eavesdropping by U.S. intelligence services wouldn't hamper efforts to hammer out a free-trade agreement.
On Monday, Kerry went to Saudi Arabia to try to reassure the strategic Gulf Arab ally, which is worried about any warming of U.S. ties with its regional arch rival, Iran.
His message on missile defense in Poland reinforced that Washington isn't abandoning contingency plans for hostile acts by Iran.
Under a previous missile-defense plan for Europe, devised by President George W. Bush, Poland was to become a defense site in 2015 to protect the continent from ballistic missile threats.
The prospect led to angry protests from Russia, which threatened to install more missiles in its Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad in response because it believed the system in Poland, close to Russia's borders, would reduce Moscow's deterrent capabilities.
President Barack Obama in 2009 proposed a new, scaled-down setup that at the time was more acceptable to the Kremlin, prompting officials in Poland, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization since 1999, to publicly question the U.S. commitment to Polish security.
Faced with an increasingly resurgent Russia, its former communist-era overlord, Poland plans to invest about $45 billion by 2022 in new military equipment. Mr. Kerry said U.S. companies would "compete vigorously" for contracts that will be part of that program.
Russia's Foreign Ministry didn't immediately react to Mr. Kerry's comments. But it has long opposed U.S. plans for a global missile defense system with installations in nearby Poland and Romania.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has described as insufficient guarantees that the system won't be used against Russia or threaten its nuclear arsenal.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reiterated Moscow's dissatisfaction with the missile-defense plans during an official visit to Japan over the weekend.
"We do not hide the fact that the creation of a U.S. global missile defense system…causes us great concern," Mr. Shoigu said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has described the missile defense system as a step backward for Russia's relations with the U.S. and NATO and an attempt to bolster security at Moscow's expense.
Turning to other issues, Mr. Kerry urged "the Russians, the Iranians and others who support the Syrian regime" to persuade Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to attend talks aimed at introducing a transition government. Efforts are under way to set up a peace conference as early as this month to end the civil war.
"One thing is certain: There is no military solution to the conflict in Syria," Mr. Kerry said.
Speaking at a news conference with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, Mr. Kerry also said the U.S. will speak with European governments to address their "legitimate" questions over electronic eavesdropping by U.S. intelligence services.
Allegations that the National Security Agency intercepted communication of world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande, have irked the Europeans.
Mr. Kerry said he hopes the outrage won't complicate the second round of talks on a proposed U.S.-Europe free trade area set to start next week in Brussels
"This is a trade partnership," Mr. Kerry said. "The trans-Atlantic trade partnership is really separate from and different from any other issues that people might have on their minds.…That should not be confused with whatever legitimate questions exist with respect of NSA or any other activities," he added.
"If we get it right, which we will, we cannot only alleviate concerns but we can actually strengthen our intelligence relationships going forward and we can all be more secure and safer as a result as well as protecting privacy of our citizens," he said.
Corrections & Amplifications
—Paul Sonne in Moscow contributed to this article.