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May 26, 2011

Obama Meets With European Leaders In Poland

by Kent Klein

President Barack Obama is in Poland, in an effort to strengthen relationships in Eastern and Central Europe, and to ask support for emerging Arab democracies.  Our correspondent reports from Warsaw, the final stop on the president's six-day, four-nation European tour.

President Obama Friday began his first trip to Poland by paying tribute to the country's 20th-century war dead at its Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Then, the president laid a wreath at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes.  The granite monument marks the 1943 uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto and the persecution of Polish Jews.

Later, Mr. Obama hosted a working dinner for the presidents of 18 countries taking part in the Central European summit.

As the dinner began, Mr. Obama told the leaders the United States has taken great inspiration from the blossoming of freedom and economic growth in Eastern and Central Europe.

Serbia and Romania boycotted the dinner, to protest the inclusion of the president of Kosovo, a country they do not recognize.  

The folliwing countries were represented at the dinner: Albania, Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, as well as Poland.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski officially welcomes Mr. Obama on Saturday.  The two leaders will discuss trade issues, including the exploration of the shale gas found under Poland.

They will also likely talk about an agreement to station U.S. F-16 fighter jets in Poland, a deal Russia opposes.  Cooperation on the war in Afghanistan will probably be on the agenda as well.

Another likely topic of conversation is support for emerging democracies in the Middle East and North Africa, which administration officials have compared to the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe two decades ago.

And Polish officials may bring up the problem of Poles having to obtain visas to travel to the U.S.

Mr. Obama is expected to discuss many of the same issues later in the day with Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

Former Polish president and Solidarity labor leader Lech Walesa declined an invitation to meet with Mr. Obama and Polish political leaders on Saturday.  His only explanation was, “It did not suit me.”  Previous U.S. presidents have met with Mr. Walesa one-on-one.

Before returning to Washington, Mr. Obama will lay a wreath in memory of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others who died in a plane crash in Russia last year.

Mr. Obama had planned to attend memorial services for the crash victims, but was prevented from flying to Poland by a large cloud of volcanic ash blanketing much of Europe.