hrs_080310-w-xxxxb-001.jpgWASHINGTON, March 10, 2008 – President Bush today thanked Poland’s prime minister for his country’s support in Iraq and Afghanistan and promised that, as the United States and Poland explore plans for a proposed missile defense system, the U.S. will help Poland modernize its military.

Bush sat alongside Prime Minister Donald Tusk following a far-ranging White House meeting the president said included discussions about “the significant threat to the 21st century” — the potential launch of a missile with dangerous materials in its warhead.

“Technologies are developing that will enable the free world to be able to defend itself from blackmail and/or strife from these … types of launches,” Bush said. “And we’re in discussions with Poland about how we can help the mutual security of the region.”

The president said he assured Tusk that the system, part of it to be emplaced in Poland, would reflect Poland’s sovereignty and not subject its people to undue security risks. Bush also underscored that the system would not be aimed at Russia.

“This system is designed for the threats of the 21st century,” he said. “The system is necessary to deal with the realities of the threats.”

There’s still a lot of work left in moving the concept from a strategy on paper to a detailed plan that can be implemented, the president said. “And so our experts are working through a system to make sure that the people of Poland are comfortable with the idea,” he said.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell today told reporters the United States is working with the Poles “to allay whatever concerns they have about basing part of the missile defense system within their territory.”

The president acknowledged Poland’s stated need to modernize its forces and said the United States will help. “The first part of a response, of course, is to take inventory of needs,” Bush said. “And Mr. Prime Minister, before my watch is over, we will have assessed those needs and come up with a modernization plan that’s concrete and tangible.”

Poland approached the United States several months ago expressing a desire to modernize its air defenses if it is to take on what it perceives as additional risks associated with hosting missile interceptors, Morrell said.

“And so we have agreed to conduct talks with them, not only on missile defense, but simultaneously about modernizing their air defenses,” Morrell said. “So these are two separate and yet related negotiations that are taking place, but (they are) not at the agreement point yet.”

Tusk said today’s talks confirmed that the United States and Poland can count on each other as friends and can work cooperatively toward developing a missile defense system and in modernizing Poland’s military.

“Our joint intention is to cooperate in all aspects of global security, American security and Polish security,” Tusk said. “And an element of the security is the missile defense system.”

Bush opened today’s press availability praising Poland for its role in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

“I want to thank you for your nation’s contributions to the liberation of people in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Bush told Tusk. “Your troops have performed brilliantly, and they’ll be coming home based upon success.”

The president thanked the Polish people for sacrifices they’ve made in both countries and noted that they’re helping the citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq realize the liberty and peace Poland has come to enjoy.

“The people of Poland stand as an example of freedom and liberty,” Bush said. “This is a nation … that has resisted tyranny and now lives as an example of a free society.”

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