Obama Disappoints Poland on Visa Waivers During Visit by Komorowski

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The New York Sun

When the president of Poland, Bronislaw Komorowski, hung an ornament on the majestic pine in the Oval Office yesterday, President Obama remarked, “It’s the prettiest one on the tree.” But when jet-lagged journalists from Warsaw were then brought into the room, they were disappointed, and surprised, to learn that Poland would not get the gift it was hoping for — a waiver of visas for Poles visiting America.

This is the eighth Christmas that Polish soldiers will spend in assisting American GIs in Iraq or Afghanistan, but the one present that they want has yet to arrive. Year after year these Polish soldiers can fight side by side with American troops for freedom for other countries, but they still can’t visit the Statue of Liberty without a visa. Poland’s neighbors were given this present by Obama last year, but for Poles – bupkis.

In 2008, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and South Korea were added to the program, meaning that their citizens could travel to America without a visa. Yet Poland was left off the list because of an arcane formula used in the interview process that guesses whether the visitor might overstay his time limit in the United States.

As a Senator from Illinois, a state with a million Polish-Americans, Mr. Obama issued numerous statements in favor of including Poland in the visa waiver program for allies. Mr. Obama’s former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, made the same promise when he was a Congressman from Chicago. But once this Illinois duo made it to the White House, they did nothing on this issue.

Because of this, when Polish journalists learned on their way into the Oval Office that they had one question between them, the decided that they would make their one question to Mr. Obama about the inclusion of Poland in the visa waiver program.

“I indicted to President Komorowski that I am going to make this priority,” Mr. Obama said. “My expectation is that this problem will be solved during my presidency.”

A Polish reporter followed up, saying, “So it has not been a priority in the past two years?” There was a clear change in the Mr. Obama’s demeanor, and he replied, “I’m sorry. What I said was that it has been a priority and we’ve been continuing to work on it, but it hasn’t gotten done yet.”

The Polish press heard what it wanted to, and news stories throughout Poland today proclaimed that Mr. Obama had promised to end visas for Poles by the end of his term.

After breakfast with Mr. Komorowski today, President Carter’s former national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, gave the Polish press a reality check when asked about the visas. “There is a big difference between certainty and hope,” Dr. Brzezinski said with a smile.

He went on to say relations between Poland and the United States have been strategically aligned for the past 20 years. That would not change he said.

To that end, one of Mr. Komorowski’s advisers, Roman Kuzniar, said that the Obama Administration has offered to station F-16 fighter jets and Hercules planes on Polish soil starting in 2013 on a temporary basis.

Despite the visa issue, Mr. Obama stretched his meeting in the Oval Office with the Polish visitors from one hour to two, in which he told the assembled press, “I reiterate my determination and the American people’s determination to always stand by Poland in its defense and its security needs. And that commitment is exemplified by the joint adoption at Lisbon by NATO of a NATO-wide missile defense capacity. It’s exemplified by the air force detachment that will be placed in Poland as part of our ongoing relationship in the training process. It is indicated by the SM-3s and the interceptors that are going to be located in Poland as part of our phased adoptive approach to missile defense. And most importantly, it’s affirmed by the fact that not only are we NATO allies but strong bilateral allies and that bond between our two countries is unbreakable.”

With such strong words, the Poles will be waiting to see what’s under the White House Christmas tree next year.

The New York Sun

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