Kwasniewski to Press Bush on Visa Rules

Article excerpt

Byline: Bruce I. Konviser, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

WARSAW - What was conceived as a feel-good meeting between Iraq-war allies has become much more serious because of new U.S. visa rules requiring visitors to be photographed and fingerprinted.

Analysts say the United States will lose perhaps its best friend in Europe if Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski is unable to win relief from the policy when he meets President Bush at the White House today.

The new procedures have incensed Poles, who feel jilted after offering unquestioning support to both the U.S.-led war on terror and the war in Iraq. The usually fractious Polish parliament united in condemning the visa initiative during a foreign-policy debate last week.

The U.S. policy is "a prescription for a public-relations disaster," Foreign Ministry spokesman Boguslaw Majewski said during an interview in his office, where the walls bear two huge photos of the burning World Trade Center as a "reminder of what is important in our lives today."

"It's a mistake that should be overturned," he said of the U.S. visa policy.

Although officials from both countries insist that overall relations remain strong, political commentator Konstanty Gebert warned that the meeting with Mr. Bush could have serious consequences for the Polish president.

"What will happen if the situation is not corrected is that the U.S. will lose a friend," Mr. Gebert said. "If [Mr. Kwasniewski] returns empty-handed - which will be a humiliating defeat for an otherwise popular politician - it will also be a defeat for pro-American forces in Poland.

"What really adds to the anger is that Poland has gone seriously out on a limb to support the U.S., especially over Iraq," said Mr. Gebert, who writes for the country's leading newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza. …