Is Polish policy towards the US experiencing a turnaround?

10-09-2004

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski has made an impassioned plea to the Washington administration to be 'flexible, open and gracious'. His interview with the New York Times has raised some eyebrows in Warsaw.

The interview is generally seen as veiled criticism of US foreign policy. President Kwasniewski said he did not want the United States to have full dominance in the world and to play a divide-and-rule policy. It is a mistake - he added. He also said he felt hurt by Washington's visa requirements on Poles. For Robert Strybel, the Warsaw correspondent of the Polish media in America, the timing of the president's remarks is rather surprising:

"It came as a surprise, even though this is a position that most Poles support, most Poles feel that there should be a waiver of US visa policy, as far as Poles are concerned, especially in view of their support for the cause - the American led campaign in Iraq. So, the general spirit of his statement, I think, has general backing. However, there are many things that have to be asked, for example, the timing seems very strange. He first of all gave this interview to the chief opponent of President Bush, his re-election - the New York Times which supports Kerry, and at a time when the Republican Convention just ended and President Bush had some warm words for Poland in his speech."

Addressing reporters a few months ago, Mr Kwasniewski hoped for an imminent change in the character of Poland's military involvement in Iraq.

"The change of the concept of the military forces, not the mission of stabilization, but some kind of peacekeeping mission, under the auspices of the United Nations."

It is clear now that this scenario has not been implemented. Amid strong popular opposition to the Polish troop deployment and continued violent unrest in Iraq, Poland plans to scale down its military presence soon. Asked by the New York Times if he has any regrets over the decision to support the US-led war on terror, President Kwasniewski replied: 'next question, please'.

According to Matthew Day his remarks reflect a growing frustration with the US policies:

"Frustration with the United States over certain issues. For example, we have the long-running saga over visas for Polish citizens going to the United States. Many Poles feel that they should go without having to go through this palaver of getting a visa. The number of contracts for Polish firms in Iraq, they feel that they've just gone to the United States than to Polish companies and the Americans are just hogging all the good contracts. Maybe deeper down there is a sort of historical feeling that the Poles feel that America is beginning to behave in a rather bossy manner, it's thinking of itself and it's not thinking of other smaller nations who are actually making a big sacrifice."

Poland has lost 14 of its citizens, ten soldiers and four civilians, in the Iraqi operation. In his interview, President Kwasniewski expressed the hope that the role of the troops will soon be changed from occupation to peace-keeping. Matthew Day thinks that while his remarks hardly signal any rift in Polish-US relations, more critical comments from Warsaw can be expected:

"This is going to carry on. You're not going to have a major rift. You're not going to have a major disagreement. But I think Polish politicians will make the most of the opportunity to prod America, to criticize America, not greatly, but just to remind America that their allies maybe want things done differently."

Poland has been a staunch ally of the United States right from the start. However much Mr Kwasniewski continues to support US policy, it is clear that the developments of the past few months have weighed heavily on his views.

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