WARSAW — Poland and the United States struck a deal Thursday that will strengthen military ties and put an American missile interceptor base in Poland, a plan that has infuriated Moscow and sparked fears in Europe of a new arms race.
Washington says the planned system, which is not yet operational, is needed to protect the U.S. and Europe from possible attacks by missile-armed "rogue states," such as Iran. The Kremlin, however, believes it is aimed at Russia's missile force and warns that it will worsen tensions.
U.S. officials also said the timing of the deal was not meant to antagonize Russian leaders at a time when relations are strained over the recent fighting between Russia and Georgia.
In an interview on news channel TVN24, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the United States had agreed to augment Poland's defenses with Patriot missiles in exchange for placing 10 missile defense interceptors in the East European country.
Tusk said the deal also included a "mutual commitment" between the nations to come to each other's assistance "in case of trouble."
That clause appeared to be a reference to Russia, which has threatened to aim its nuclear-armed missiles at Poland -- a former Soviet satellite -- if it allows the U.S. site on its soil.
Poland's fears of a resurgent Russia have intensified with Moscow's offensive in Georgia, a former Soviet republic.
In recent days, Polish leaders have said the fighting in the Caucasus justified Poland's demands it get additional security guarantees from the U.S. in exchange for allowing the antimissile base on its soil. But after the deal was announced, American and Polish officials sought to play down any connection to the current conflict.
"This is not linked to the situation in Georgia," the chief U.S. negotiator, John Rood, said after the pact was signed.
This week, Tusk dismissed the official leading the talks with the U.S., calling his performance unsatisfactory.
In Russia, Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of parliament's lower house, was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying the agreement would spark "a real rise in tensions in Russian-American relations."
The deal still needs approval from Poland's parliament and a final signing by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.