Poland calms waters with France over Iraq missile claims
WARSAW (AFP) Oct 04, 2003
Poland said Saturday a diplomatic incident sparked by an allegation that its troops in Iraq had found Franco-German missiles made this year, had been resolved, after receiving a strong rebuke from France.
Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller told Polish television he had met French President Jacques Chirac during a summit of European leaders in Rome and that the matter was now closed.
"I met Mr Chirac twice during the intergovernmental conference," Miller said on the private TVN channel.
He said he had informed the French leader of a statement released earlier by Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski deploring the allegation, and added: "We have recognised that the matter is closed."
Szmajdzinski said that he "deplored the indications concerning the date the missiles were produced," and promised an immediate and thorough investigation into the matter, but did not specifically deny the find.
"All information from the ministry spokesman concerning the seizure of Roland (short-range surface-to-air) missiles, as well as the information by the media relative to this affair were neither approved by the ministry nor by the chief-of-staff of the Polish military," he said in the statement.
The French president brushed off the allegation by the Polish defense ministry that a Polish patrol had found four Roland anti-aircraft missiles south of Baghdad, apparently manufactured this year.
"There cannot be any missiles there in 2003 because the missiles haven't been built for the past 15 years," Chirac said at an EU summit in Rome.
Chirac said Polish soldiers must "have been confused" about the find, which would have violated a UN weapons embargo against the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and should have checked their find more carefully before making the allegations.
He had a "friendly but firm" talk with the Polish prime minister attending a summit in Rome of European leaders on the future EU constitution about the issue, he added.
Iraqi police notified the Polish troops of the missiles, and "on October 1, we seized four Roland missiles bearing French markings, made in 2003, in a house near Al-Hillah", south of Baghdad, defense ministry spokesman Eugeniusz Mleczak said earlier.
In Paris, the French foreign ministry also denied the allegations by the Polish defense ministry, saying they were based upon "erroneous information."
Paris had not "authorized the supply, including spare parts (of weapons material) to Iraq after July 1990," once international sanctions were slapped on Baghdad in response to its invasion of Kuwait, a spokesman said.
"France has applied a strict arms embargo since then," Herve Ladsous said in a statement.
While France, along with other western countries, had exported weapons to Iraq during the 1970s and 1980s -- including the Roland 1 and Roland 2 missiles and missile systems -- the Roland 3 was "never exported to Iraq."
He added that both Roland 2 and 3 missiles had respectively not been manufactured since 1988 and 1993.
France was strongly opposed to the US-led war in Iraq, while Poland supported the American and British campaign to oust president Saddam Hussein. Last month it took over the command of some 9,000 troops as part of a stabilisation force patrolling a large portion of central and southern Iraq.
The Roland air defense short-range missile system was produced by a Franco-German consortium known as Euromissile, based just outside Paris, according to French and German defense websites.
Euromissile was originally set up by Aerospatiale-Matra of France and DaimlerChrysler Aerospace of Germany, now a subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space company, or EADS.