The latest setback: problems mount for U.S. missile defence

Poland is demanding $US 1 billion a year from the United States for allowing elements of its anti-missile defence shield to be placed there.

The figure has been named by the Polish Defence Minister.

It’s believed that the cost could be too much for the White House in the latest setback for the controversial project, which is opposed by Russia.

Washington wants to set up of two missile defence bases: a site with ten interceptors in Poland and a linked radar installation in the Czech Republic.

However, many opinion polls show the majority of the population in the Czech Republic is against the project.

Even the U.S. Accounting Office says testing of the planned shield has not been successful yet.

The Polish demands have triggered reports that the U.S. is trying to court Lithuania as an alternative site for deployment, but Lithuania and the U.S. have denied holding talks although officials from the Baltic state say the country shows much interest in the shield.

The American Missile Defense Agency insists Poland is still their number one choice.

The U.S. says the goal of the missile defence shield is to protect America and Europe from possible attacks by “rogue states” such as Iran but Moscow has repeatedly said that building a missile defence shield close to Russia's border, because of a hypothetical threat from Iran, is not justified. The Russian view is that it would create a threat to the world's security balance.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said: “This initiative has little to do with the announced intention to neutralise the threat coming in from Iran. In reality, this is a process of expansion of the American strategic system to Eastern Europe, for the first time in history.”

Meanwhile, scepticism is spreading among Americans on the amount of money being spent on the project at a time when the U.S. economy is far from being healthy.

Some analysts say it’s unlikely that Congress will approve the almost $US 9 billion being requested by the Bush administration for the project for next year.

But General Tray Obering, of the American Missile Defense Agency, says that not that much is required.

“The money we spend on missile defence is less that 2% of the budget. Here in the U.S., we spend $US 20 billion on video games every year. So let's talk about the value of things, not about the price,” he said.