Secretary of State Colin Powell, ending a week-long European and Middle East trip in Warsaw, has praised Poland's role in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. He discussed the future of the 2,400-member Polish contingent in talks with senior Polish officials, including President Aleksandr Kwasniewski and Prime Minister Marek Belka.
Poland, which commands a multi-national force of more that 6,000 peacekeeping soldiers in southern Iraq, has said it is counting on withdrawing a substantial number of its own troops early next year, after elections for a transitional Iraq government.
But in a news conference following talks with Mr. Powell, Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said this was not a withdrawal deadline, and that the Warsaw government's decision to stay or go will be based on security conditions in Iraq after the elections.
"We believe that that opens the possibility to reduce the number of military personnel of the coalition, and we hope that after the next year elections in the country, that it will also be possible in our case," said Mr. Cimoszewicz. "But, of course, let me underline very strongly that we understand very well our co-responsibility for the success of the mission of the coalition. We are commanding a multi-national division, and we know what it does mean. We strongly hope that things will move in a positive direction in Iraq, allowing us to implement this concept, this idea."
Poland has had seven members of its Iraq contingent killed by insurgents, the most recent one killed by a roadside bomb last week. Recent public opinion surveys indicate that three-out-of-four Poles oppose the Iraq presence.
Acknowledging that the mission has been expensive for Poland, Mr. Powell none-the-less made clear his hopes that the coalition will hang together long enough to see effective Iraqi security forces put in place, and the insurgency, if not defeated, then at least diminished.
"We hope that, as we move through this year, and get to the elections and beyond, the security situation will improve, the insurgency will be brought under better control, if not eliminated, and that Iraqi forces over the next six-to-eight months will be building up their capability," said Mr. Powell. "And, as we go through this period, we will have to examine on a continuing basis what our force requirements are, and work with each of our coalition partners, as they make their individual sovereign judgment, as to what their capacity is to support their presence in Iraq."
Mr. Powell, who described the U.S.-Polish relationship as excellent, said ties would be further improved by the opening of a strategic dialogue between the two countries to be inaugurated by a visit to Warsaw in September by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.
Foreign Minister Cimoszewicz reiterated his government's irritation over tighter U.S. immigration restrictions following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and said they particularly affect Poles, seeking to visit relatives and others in the huge Polish-American community.
The United States has already begun a program of pre-screening for Polish visitors, but the Polish foreign minister said more can be done to put Polish travelers in a more comfortable position.
Poland has sought the same no-visa status for its nationals that citizens of Japan and several West European countries enjoy for U.S. travel.