Military ties top agenda in Obama`s Poland talks

Washington`s military moves on Moscow`s former turf have angered the Kremlin.

Warsaw: Military ties topped the agenda as US President Barack Obama on Saturday wrapped up his European tour with a visit to staunch ally Poland.

Fresh from the G8 economic summit in France, and after stops in Ireland and Britain, Obama moved to reassure east European allies that cooperation on missile defence with their Soviet-era master Moscow does not mean NATO will cede partial control to Russia.

"In addition to re-establishing a wonderful conversation with strong friends and allies, I wanted to make sure that everyone in our country and everyone around the world understand that the trans-Atlantic alliance remains a cornerstone, a foundation stone, for American security," Obama told reporters after meeting Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

Washington`s military moves on Moscow`s former turf have angered the Kremlin, leading to US olive branches.

"We believe that missile defence is something we should be cooperating in with the Russians because we share external threats," Obama said earlier after meeting Poland`s President Bronislaw Komorowski.

"But we think it is very important that NATO remains in charge of NATO defence capabilities. That`s one of the central principles of NATO."

Komorowski welcomed Obama`s stance.

"The NATO missile defence programme will take into account the possibility of cooperation with Russia," but defending alliance members remains its bedrock, Komorowski said.

Obama is working to maintain the "reset" in ties with Moscow launched after he came to power in 2009, and met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday at the G8.

"I am a strong believer that the reset between the US and Russia has benefited this region as well as the United States and Russia because it has reduced tensions and has facilitated genuine dialogue," he said in Warsaw.

But discord over missile defence was revealed again at the G8 when Medvedev said the issue may not settled for years.

Ex-communist Romania and Poland have agreed to host part of a revamped US missile shield, with deployment planned by 2015 and 2018 respectively.

Washington says the goal is to ward off threats from so-called rogue states like Iran, but Moscow dubs the plan a security threat.

A plan from Obama`s predecessor George W Bush sparked barbs between Moscow and Washington rarely seen since the Cold War ended two decades ago.

Last year, the US programme was folded into NATO missile-defence plans.

But moves to include Russia in the latter have raised jitters in countries under Moscow`s thumb until 1991, whose ties the Kremlin have often remained rocky.

Kremlin talk of a "sectoral approach" -- jargon having specific zones of missile-defence coverage -- rattles them because it raises the prospect of being under Russia`s umbrella.

Ex-communist countries which have joined NATO since the alliance began expanding in eastern Europe in 1999 see US ties as a security bulwark and have stumped up troops in return.

Poland sent forces to Iraq as part of Bush`s "coalition of the willing" and is a major contributor in Afghanistan.

It has been seeking to bolster defence links further via a US military presence.

Washington said US F-16 fighter jets and Hercules transport aircraft would be deployed in Poland on a rotating basis from 2013 to help train the Polish air force, and an aviation detachment, permanently.

"For Polish security it is important that the memorandum on the American detachment`s presence is slowly and systematically becoming fact," Tusk said on Saturday. "It`s an important gesture, albeit not large-scale."

Last year saw the first three rotations of unarmed training batteries of US Patriot missiles in Poland, which Russia slammed. Four rotations are planned this year.

Obama has said two decades of democratic and market reforms behind the old Iron Curtain -- notably in Poland which cast off its regime peacefully in 1989 -- hold lessons for the Arab Spring.

He dined on Friday with more than a dozen regional leaders in Warsaw at a summit where Belarus was singled out as a case of reform gone wrong.

Obama hammered that home on Saturday, slamming the "unacceptable situation" there and accusing authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994, of "total disregard" for democratic values.

Bureau Report

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