BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel,
sharpening her government's opposition to Poland's decision to accept part of a
U.S. missile shield on its
territory, says that the issue should be submitted to NATO and not decided on a
bilateral basis with Washington.
Merkel is to meet in Hannover
on Thursday with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, whose aides have threatened to withdraw
from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty if deployment so close to
Russia's borders proceeds. On Friday,
representing the European Union presidency, she will travel to
Poland where she will discuss the
plan with Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
"We, and I, will say that in
Poland we would prefer a
solution within NATO and also an open discussion with Russia," she
told ZDF public television.
Merkel's call for the debate to move to Brussels,
a NATO spokesman said Tuesday the alliance would not interfere in negotiations
between the United States and
Poland or the Czech Republic, which has also agreed to deploy
parts of the shield.
"NATO must first agree on the
threats and, to the extent possible, a common approach," said James Appathurai,
the alliance spokesman. "NATO is in no way engaging in these bilateral talks."
Poland and the Czech Republic are negotiating with the Bush
administration over the terms of deployment. U.S. defense officials say that the proposed
shield was designed to guard not against Russian missiles but against any
eventual attack from countries such as Iran or North Korea.
Under certain conditions,
including U.S. help upgrading
Poland's air defense system,
deploy part of the interceptor system. The Czech Republic would deploy radar to detect
incoming missiles. Britain
and Denmark are also holding
talks with Washington on accepting parts of the
NATO diplomats said that the
States was pursuing bilateral agreements
because it did not want to become bogged down in protracted debate within the
alliance. "We saw what happened during 1999 when the U.S. was trying to get support from the alliance
to stop Serbia's policy of ethnic cleansing
in Kosovo," said a senior NATO official who asked not to be identified because
he was not authorized to speak on the matter. "Later, we saw how NATO was almost
torn apart over the Iraq war
when the U.S. sough support. The point is, the
U.S. does not want endless
delays, nor does Poland or
Still, Radoslaw Sikorski, who
resigned as Polish defense minister last month in a disagreement on the
conditions for deployment, said the United States should explain its
plans more openly to avoid dividing the 26-member
"The U.S. should
explain how and on what timetable it would include the Central European
facilities within an ultimate NATO infrastructure," Sikorski said. He added that
the United States should
"square it with Russia and explain to NATO how it
will fit into NATO's overall plan."
In Washington, Daniel Fried,
assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, said the United States
had tried "mightily and with some success" to discuss the issue with NATO, but
added, "we have met with resistance from some of same countries whose
politicians say we should do more at NATO."
He said he was not
"I think it is a first-class
idea for NATO to do a lot on this issue," Fried said, "but that doesn't mean you
can't do things bilaterally and then do them
NATO is developing its own
theater missile defense system that alliance diplomats said would provide a
lower level of protection than the U.S. project.
The participation of
Poland and the Czech Republic is emerging as a major controversy in
Putin has said he believes a
defense system based so close to its borders would be directed against
Russia — despite strenuous
denials by Warsaw, Prague and Washington.
He has won support from
Germany's Social Democrats, who are
coalition partners with Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats. The Social
Democrats have started to appeal to anti- American sentiments, echoing former
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's 2002 election campaign in which he attacked
U.S. plans to invade
Iraq. In a speech in Dresden on Sunday, Schröder said the missile defense
project amounted to "a policy of encirclement against Russia."
The Christian Democrats say
they want the missile debate to involve not only NATO but also EU countries. In
that way, they say, European countries would be protected.
Ruprecht Polenz, the
conservative chairman of the Bundestag's foreign affairs committee, said that
"Russia should be invited to join the
defense shield as well and the issue could be discussed in the NATO-Russia