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December 07, 2010

Polish President Presses for Ratification of New START

In talks with President Barack Obama, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski has pressed for U.S. Senate ratification of the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.  The two men also discussed European missile defense, and NATO strategy in Afghanistan.

President Komorowski's visit, which Mr. Obama noted was the first by a leader from central or eastern Europe, came as the White House continues efforts to have the U.S. Senate vote on New START before lawmakers leave town for the Christmas holiday.

President Obama has faced opposition from Republicans on moving ahead to a vote before the end of this year.  In remarks to reporters, however, he voiced confidence about overcoming that roadblock.

"I am confident that we are going to be able to get the START treaty on the floor, debated and completed, before we break for the holidays."

Responding to a reporter's question, President Komorowski said Poland views ratification of New START as what he called an important investment in a better and safer future.

Speaking through an interpreter, he said Poland wants to invest in better relations with Russia, but also is cautious because of its history with its powerful eastern neighbor.

"If you live just next door with somebody for 1,000 years, it is not possible to reset all the past relations using just one push of the reset button," said Komorowski.  "We are not able to fully reset and delete 1,000 years of uneasy history with Russians, but we do not want to be an obstacle, we want to be a help in the process of resetting relations of the western world with Russia."

President Komorowski's visit came amid reverberations in Poland about revelations in U.S. diplomatic reports released by WikiLeaks detailing Polish government anger over a military deal with the United States involving Patriot air defense missiles.

Under an initial European defense plan drawn up under former President George W. Bush, designed to protect against missile launches from Iran, the U.S. agreed to supply Poland with Patriot missiles in return for agreement to station interceptors there.  

NATO and the Obama administration have altered the plan, and are negotiating with Russia on a new cooperative arrangement to protect against any attack.
Neither President Obama nor the Polish leader mentioned WikiLeaks in their public remarks. Obama reiterated the U.S. commitment to standing by Poland's defense and security needs, and referred to NATO decisions and steps underway on setting up the missile defense system.

"That commitment is exemplified by the joint adoption at Lisbon by NATO of a NATO-wide missile defense capacity, it is exemplified by the (U.S.) Air Force detachment that will be placed in Poland as part of our ongoing relationship and training process, it is indicated by the SM-3 and interceptors that are going to be located in Poland as part of our phased adaptive approach to missile defense," said Obama.

On Afghanistan, where Poland has about 2,500 troops serving with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), President Obama recognized what he called the tremendous sacrifices of Poland's military. Obama said he and the Polish leader reaffirmed the NATO decision to begin transitioning security responsibilities to Afghan forces next year with a goal of completing transition by the end of 2014.

A formal written joint statement said the U.S. will place 800 U.S. troops under Polish tactical command in Afghanistan's eastern Ghazni Province, and loan an additional 20 Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles to the Polish military.

The Wednesday talks also were an opportunity for Obama to express in person his deep condolences for the tragic plane crash in April of this year that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, along with many senior civilian and military officials.  President Komorowski expressed Poland's gratitude for the support and compassion of Americans at the time.