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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » January 30, 2008
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Diplomatic Offensive
January 30, 2008 By W.¯.    
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In a recent flurry of diplomatic activity, senior Polish government officials made trips to Russia and the United States to discuss issues such as the U.S. National Missile Defense system-a highly sensitive topic that has caused tension in Moscow, Washington and Warsaw.

Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski paid a one-day visit to Moscow Jan. 21 to meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and talk with Sergei Yastrzembsky, President Vladimir Putin's adviser on relations with the European Union. At the end of the brief visit, Sikorski said that the "architecture of Polish-Russian relations has been laid out" and that he was leaving Russia "with the highest expectations" of Prime Minister Donald Tusk's visit to Moscow planned for Feb. 8.

After his talks with Sikorski, Lavrov said that Russia would not pressure the Polish government when it comes to the plan to install parts of the U.S. missile defense system in Poland. "Russia has no right of veto with respect to decisions made by Poland," Lavrov said. Sikorski said that "the level of Russia's disapproval of the shield has diminished." "We want to bring down the political costs of a potential decision [by Poland to host a base for U.S. interceptor missiles] to the lowest possible level," Sikorski added.

Both ministers expressed their satisfaction with the development of Polish-Russian business links. However, they agreed that the current level of bilateral trade did not reflect the actual capabilities of both countries. A joint "program of economic cooperation" will be adopted to allow closer cooperation, they said, accompanied by the creation of a system of incentives to promote regional economic cooperation. Sikorski and Lavrov agreed that it would be good if the two countries signed an agreement on the mutual protection of investment projects to stimulate bilateral business.

Sikorski said the Polish government wanted "to introduce measures facilitating border traffic, both with regard to deadlines for reviewing visa applications and reducing visa fees, and with regard to an agreement on local border traffic for Russia's Kaliningrad district." The two sides agreed on the need to accelerate work on various bilateral agreements, including agreements on the mutual recognition of academic degrees, the exchange of classified information, maritime traffic in the Strait of Baltiysk, and the protection of intellectual property.

Asked if Poland was ready to withdraw its veto to negotiations on a new cooperation agreement between the EU and Russia, Sikorski said he was optimistic, but added that he did not want to "make any far-reaching promises." Poland blocked the EU's negotiations with Russia on the agreement after the Kremlin banned Polish meat and farm produce imports in November 2005. Over the past month, the Russians have lifted most of these restrictions and promised to abolish the remaining ones within the next few months "after appropriate agreements are signed with the EU."

Following his Russian visit, Sikorski is flying to Washington Feb. 1 to meet U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The visit comes after talks that Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich held there in mid-January. On Jan. 14 Klich met with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, and Daniel Fried, head of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs at the Department of State and a former ambassador to Warsaw. The following day Klich held talks in Congress.

After all these meetings, Klich said the U.S. administration was more inclined than previously to meet Poland's demands concerning the American proposal to place an anti-missile shield base in Poland.

"I'm very pleased, and this is probably the most important result of my visit, that the Americans see the possibility of talking about their contribution to the process of modernizing the Polish armed forces," Klich said, adding that he had noticed "greater readiness than before to talk about U.S. assistance for this modernization-especially for the Polish air force." Such assistance, in the form of Patriot anti-aircraft missiles, for example, is one of the conditions that the Polish government has put forward for allowing a missile system to be based in Poland.

The Polish government also wants to sign an additional bilateral military agreement with the United States similar to those between America and Italy or Turkey.

While in Washington, Klich also visited the Pentagon to talk about Polish military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Warsaw had announced that Polish forces would be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of October. However, the Polish government has now agreed to consider the U.S. administration's request that the main part of the Polish contingent stay in Iraq as long as possible within that deadline.

The Polish government has preliminary plans to increase the Polish contingent in Afghanistan from 1,200 to about 1,600 soldiers. These plans are compatible with U.S. plans to deploy additional forces to Afghanistan, Klich said.

Summing up his Washington talks, Klich said the Americans want to continue their "strategic security cooperation" with Poland. "We have confirmed our mutual will to continue this cooperation," he said.

Back home, however, the missile shield negotiations have caused bitter disputes between the government and the opposition. Anna Fotyga, foreign minister in the former government of Jarosław Kaczyński and now head of President Lech Kaczyński's Office, recently told the media that Poland needed the U.S. missile shield regardless of whether the Americans help modernize Poland's armed forces or not. Fotyga, who was criticized sharply by the opposition throughout her term as foreign minister, said Tusk's government lacks "political vision."

Sikorski Jan. 22 appealed to Fotyga "not to undermine the government's negotiating position." He also lambasted Fotyga for claiming that the Patriot missiles that Tusk's government wants to obtain from the Americans are outdated. "The Patriot 3 system doesn't seem to be outdated for countries such as Japan, which knows something about technology, or Israel, which also has quite good military technology," Sikorski said. He added that Fotyga's Law and Justice (PiS) party, which is now in opposition, was "ready to actually pay for the U.S. shield" when it governed the country in the previous two years instead of bargaining with the Americans to get the best possible deal. Fotyga's statement suggests that Poland should "not haggle, but accept everything with no preliminary conditions," Sikorski said.

The final decision on the missile shield is expected to be made when Tusk meets U.S. President George W. Bush in the United States, probably in March or April. The date of the visit has not yet been officially fixed.
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