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Congressional panel moves to block some funding for U.S. missile defense plans in Poland

A U.S. congressional panel eased its stance on a bill that would block funding for a key part of a U.S. missile defense system planned for construction in Poland.

In a reflection of unease in Congress over plans to expand the U.S. program into Eastern Europe, the House of Representatives' Armed Services Committee voted to delete $160 million (EURO117.5 million) requested by the Bush administration for construction of 10 interceptor facilities in Poland. The move came in part of a bill that would authorize next year's defense spending that is expected to be passed by the committee late Wednesday or early Thursday.

It would leave intact money to install a satellite in the Czech Republic and some of the funds requested for the interceptors but block funding for construction in Poland. The administration is requesting $310 million (EURO 228 million) for the overall project.

But the committee softened an earlier draft by its Strategic Forces subcommittee. The changes would allow the administration to resubmit its request for the blocked funds if the Polish government approves construction in 2008.

Warsaw has expressed interest in hosting the interceptor sites but has not yet signed an agreement with Washington. U.S. officials have said that construction could begin in early 2008.

The blocked money could still be restored later in the legislative process. The overall spending bill still faces approval by the full House and the Senate and must be signed by the president to take effect.

The subcommittee's chairwoman, Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher, has expressed support for the overall missile defense concept but has criticized the part of the system being planned for Poland as not sufficiently tested. She has also suggested that the European system should be built in closer coordination with NATO.

The U.S. missile defense plans have infuriated Russia, which has suggested it could lead to a new arms race.

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