Obama highlights Poland as model for a changing Middle East
On the last stop of his Europe tour, Obama recognized Poland's economic and democratic growth, saying it could be a template for pro-democracy movements in North Africa and the Middle East.
Prague — The visit, says Bartosz Wisniewski of Warsaw’s Polish Institute of International Affairs, allowed Obama “to bask in the success story that is Eastern Europe's transformation from Communism to capitalism, in which America played no small role."
In a 24-hour stop, Mr. Obama highlighted Poland’s economic growth and its support for pro-democracy movements in north Africa and the Middle East.
Obama met Saturday with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, saying afterward that Poland was "one of our strongest and closest allies and a leader in Europe," and "a living example of what is possible when countries take reform seriously.”
Security was a key concern on the agenda, especially in the wake of Obama's decision to scrap Bush-era missiled defense plans – including 10 interceptor missiles in Poland. The president told his hosts that the move did not put Poland’s security at risk and that NATO would guarantee the country’s security.
In earlier talks with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, Obama urged Poland to help Ukraine and Belarus with democratic reforms.
Obama criticized Belarus for "backsliding" and a 'total disregard for democratic values.'
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has intensified a crackdown on the opposition, jailing presidential candidates, and kicking out foreign media for stirring up "hysteria" over the country's economic crisis.
On Friday, US officials announced that F-16 fighters would be rotated to a Polish base for training purposes, in a further deepening of military ties.
Obama also said he and Tusk had discussed nuclear and gas energy cooperation. America’s Westinghouse Corp. is in the running to help build Poland’s first nuclear reactor by 2020.
Shale gas drilling, or “fracking” as it is called, is facing mounting global criticism over fears the technique could pollute ground water, but not in Poland, where even Greenpeace has given its conditional support, saying it could help wean Poland off of its coal addiction.
To the disappointment of Poles, Obama made no announcement on the ending of visas for Poles traveling to the US. Poles have been critical of the fact that they are not a member of the visa waiver program even though most other European countries are.
On Friday evening, Obama sat down for dinner with 20 Central and Eastern European leaders who were in Warsaw to discuss how they could help the pro-democracy movements in northern Africa and the Middle East.
Obama said the region’s own totalitarian past under decades of Communism could serve as a template for Arab nations.
“We have taken great inspiration from the blossoming of freedom and economic growth in this region and we’re confident that will continue,” Obama told the East European leaders.
"I hope that ... this [meeting] signifies how important we consider our relationship with central and eastern Europe."
Shortly after arriving in Warsaw on Friday, Obama laid wreaths at two monuments: one commemorating Poland’s war dead and another for those who died in the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising. On Saturday, Obama laid flowers at a Warsaw memorial to the victims of the 2010 Smolensk plane crash, which killed the former president and many of the country’s elite.
But in something of a low-key visit, Obama gave no speech to the Polish public as he did in Prague in 2009, when he laid out his vision for a nuclear-free world.
Former Polish president Lech Walesa also declined to meet Obama, explaining it would be nothing more than a “photo opportunity.”
For Poland, Obama’s visit, along with the Eastern European summit, were further proof of the country’s growing confidence on the international stage. Poland is set to take up the EU rotating presidency in July.