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Poland's defence minister goes to Washington for talks on missile defence

WARSAW, Poland - Poland's new defence minister set off for Washington on Monday for talks that are expected to concern U.S. plans to site part of a missile defence shield in Poland.

WARSAW, Poland - Poland's new defence minister set off for Washington on Monday for talks that are expected to concern U.S. plans to site part of a missile defence shield in Poland.

Defence Minister Bogdan Klich also will discuss the withdrawal of Poland's troops from Iraq, which the government of new Prime Minister Donald Tusk plans to complete by the end of October, his ministry said.

Klich is to meet Tuesday with U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

The Polish Defence Ministry said their agenda will include "Polish-American military cooperation" as well as issues related to the pullout from Iraq and a planned increase in Warsaw's contingent in the International Security Assistance Force operation in Afghanistan.

Tusk's government has appeared more skeptical toward the planned missile defence shield than did its predecessor. Former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski opened talks with the U.S. early last year and firmly supported the plan.

In remarks published Saturday, Klich said that Washington needs to provide more security for Poland if it wants the country to accept 10 interceptor missiles. He said it would be "very difficult" to convince Poles to support the program without additional security measures.

Klich said last week that he would press the U.S. to strengthen Poland's short and mid-range air defences - in the form of Patriot or THAAD missiles - as part of a deal.

The proposed missile defence site has angered Russia, which says an installation so close to its border threatens its security and has warned that its missiles could target the base in Poland. The plan also calls for a radar base in the neighbouring Czech Republic.

Tusk's government has decided to withdraw Poland's remaining 900 troops from Iraq by the end of October - ending a five-year mission.

However, it also plans to send an additional 400 troops to Afghanistan this spring, raising the Polish contingent there to 1,600. Klich is calling for the Polish troops - currently scattered across Afghanistan - to be based in a single province.

During his visit to Washington, Klich also plans to meet with representatives of the Democratic Party. His ministry did not elaborate.

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