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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.

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Exxon Mobil and Chevron are vying to tap Poland’s shale gas reserves, which one US survey says are the biggest in Europe and could meet Poland’s energy needs for 300 years.

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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.

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