“This is an agreement that will establish a missile defense site here in Poland that will help us to deal with the new threats of the 21st century, of long range missiles…from countries like Iran or North Korea,” Rice told reporters in Warsaw.
Rice emphasized that the missile system was “defensive and aimed at no one.”
The agreement to install 10 U.S. interceptor missiles 115 miles from western Russia has strained already troubled relations between Moscow and the West, ties weakened by Russia’s invasion of its former Soviet neighbor Georgia earlier this month.
“We have achieved our main goals, which means that our country and the United States will be more secure,” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski also expressed “great satisfaction” at the outcome.
After the agreement on the deal was announced last week, top Russian Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn warned that Poland is risking attack, and possibly a nuclear one, by deploying the American missile defense system, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported, according to the Associated Press.
“It is a cause for regret that at a time when we are already in a difficult situation, the American side further exacerbates the situation in relations between the United States and Russia,” Nogovitsyn said.
Poland “could not go unpunished,” Nogovitsyn added.
Poles have been shaken by the threats, but NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer dismissed them Tuesday as “pathetic rhetoric.”
“It is unhelpful and it leads nowhere,” de Hoop Scheffer told reporters at a NATO meeting in Brussels.
Poland and the United States spent 18 months negotiating, and talks recently snagged on Poland’s demands for the U.S.’s Patriot missiles in exchange for hosting the missile defense base. Washington agreed to the demand last week.
“The presence of the Patriot battery, which will defend our territory and the U.S. installation, is a practical dimension of this watershed agreement,” Tusk said.
The site in Poland hosting 10 interceptor rockets and a giant radar in neighboring Czech Republic will form the European part of a global system.
“This is a very special day,” Rice said. “For Poland and the United States this is just one more example of the deepening of our relations over the last 20 years.”
The U.S. already has reached an agreement with the government in Prague to place the second component of the missile defense shield, a radar tracking system, in the Czech Republic, Poland’s southwestern neighbor and another formerly communist country.
The United States has spent more than $100 billion in the last two decades on its project to develop defenses against ballistic missiles, according to the BBC. But the Pentagon still has not proved the system can work in realistic conditions.
Washington wants the sites to be in operation by about 2012.