Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Poland, Obama Looks to Improve Relations with Key Military Ally

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Poland, Obama Looks to Improve Relations with Key Military Ally

Article excerpt

President Obama arrived in Poland Friday for the final leg of his European tour on a visit that will focus on military ties between Washington and Warsaw.

President Obama landed in Poland Friday on the last stop of his four-nation European tour for talks that are expected to focus on improving bilateral relations and the American military presence in Poland.

Mr. Obama may announce rotating F-16 fighter jets from the US airbase in Aviano, Italy, to a base in Lask, central Poland, a largely symbolic gesture in to boost relations with Poland, a key US ally in Europe.

Obama has worked to improve relations between Warsaw and Washington, which took a hit with his announcement in 2009 that he was scrapping Bush-era missile shield plans, including 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a tracking radar in the Czech Republic. The project had much support among local elites, but not among the public.

Eastern European leaders, including regional heavyweights Lech Walesa, the former Polish president, and Vaclav Havel, former Czech president, accused Washington of caving to Moscow, which long argued the system would blunt its own nuclear deterrent.

Such was the political fallout that Vice President Joe Biden was dispatched to the region in late 2009 to reassure Eastern European leaders that Washington's "reset" with Moscow would not jeopardize their security. Obama repeated that theme when he held a summit with regional leaders in 2010 in Prague, where he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the New START treaty.

Following his appearance at a G8 meeting in France, Obama's first visit to Poland will signal "a new chapter" in Washington's relations with Poland and Eastern Europe, according to Bartosz Wisniewski, a research fellow at Warsaw's Polish Institute of International Affairs.

"The two past years, Washington has ignored the region for the most part with events in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. Now, it seems Obama is focusing on it again," says Mr. Wisniewski.

"Every visit of an American president is important for Poland," said Polish-born Zbigniew Brzezinski, longtime US foreign policy expert. "For Poland, relations with the US are a guarantee of independence," Brzezinski to the Polish Press Agency.

As Obama arrived Friday in Warsaw, much of the news about his trip was dominated by Mr. Walesa's refusal to meet with the president. He didn't reveal many details about his decision, other than to say, "This time a meeting does not suit me."

Military maneuvering

Washington has been charming the Poles with talks of arms and soldiers ever since burying the first missile shield. A battery of Patriot missiles was deployed in Poland in 2010, along with a small contingent of US troops, the first foreign soldiers on Polish soil since Soviet troops pulled out in the 1990s.

Moscow not only objected to the deployment of Patriots but to where they were deployed: MORAG, just 60 kilometers from Russia's enclave of Kaliningrad. …

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