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Poland, US opening formal talks on missile defense

Poland and the United States were opening their first formal talks Monday on Washington's contentious request to place part of a new missile defense system in Poland, the U.S. Embassy said.

Robert Loftis, the State Department's senior adviser for security negotiations and agreements, was to meet late afternoon with Poland's Deputy Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski and representatives of the Defense Ministry, said U.S. Embassy spokesman Andrew Schilling.

The talks will focus on the legal status of the base and its personnel, Schilling said.

He said that another, higher level round of talks will be held next week in Warsaw, led by John Rood, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, to deal with the "broader policy aspect" of the missile defense agreement.

Poland's daily Rzeczpospolita reported the talks are planned for May 23-24 but Schilling would not comment on specific dates.

Poland's Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski has spoken favorably of the U.S. request to site 10 interceptors in Poland and a radar base in neighboring Czech Republic, saying it should enhance Poland's security.

Washington says the system would protect most of Europe from the possibility of long-range missile strikes from Iran or elsewhere in the Mideast.

But Moscow strongly opposes the plan, calling it a threat to its own nuclear deterrent and warning of retaliatory steps.

Moscow's reaction has raised concerns through much of Europe that placing bases in former Warsaw Pact countries could trigger a new arms race with Russia.

Czech and U.S. government officials on Friday concluded their first-round talks on legal issues and details of a future bilateral treaty that would cover use of the radar base, which would be constructed on a military base.

Loftis, who headed the U.S. delegation, said the meeting went well but gave few other details. Negotiations with the Czech Republic are scheduled to resume at the end of May.

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