Poland to Give Obama an Earful About Ending U.S. Visa Requirements
by the negative reaction of Poles to the clumsy way the anti-missile shield was
cancelled and by the general dip in Polish public trust in America, the White House
now seems to understand that the question of visas has huge symbolic meaning to
the Polish public."
President Barack Obama will
try to convince Poles that ending the U.S. visa requirement is just a question
of brief period of time. One thing is certain: Americans have finally understood
how delicate and serious this issue is for relations between Warsaw and
“Yes, this is the number one
issue in talks with Polish diplomats and politicians,” an aid to an American
senator interested in European politics tells us. “My impression is that for
the first time, the White House understands that.” [translated
During a meeting with
reporters before the president's flight to Europe, Ben Rhodes, deputy national security
adviser and a key person at the White House on foreign policy,
conveyed the same impression.
"Yes, this is the main
point in our relations with the Polish,” Rhodes said. “Since our meeting [with
President Bronisław Komorowski in December 2010],
we've been working hard on this issue and have made quick progress. We'll talk
about it in Poland,” Rhodes added.
For most Americans, the most
important issues to discuss during Obama’s two-day visit to Warsaw beginning Friday
are Afghanistan, Libya, and the situation in Russia and Asia. Surprised by the
negative reaction of Poles to the clumsy way the anti-missile shield was cancelled
and by the general dip in Polish public trust in America, the White House now
seems to understand that the question of visas - even if less pressing with Poland’s
accession to the European Union and the opening of the E.U. employment markets -
has huge symbolic meaning to the Polish public.
Of the 25 members countries of
area, Poland is the only one whose citizens need visas for a tourist visit
to the U.S. “I suspect that few people in Washington really understood how
painful it has been for Poles to see all of their E.U. neighbors travel to
America visa free, while they have to go through those humiliating lines at the
Consulate,” says our Senate source. “Many of our diplomats have been saying this
for years, but no one was listening. That has recently changed, especially
since the 2009 gaffe, when the abandonment of the missile shield project was
announced on the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of your country,” our
According to our information,
Mr. Obama will mention the visa issue either during the joint press conference
with President Komorowski or in the statement summarizing the visit.
Obama won't announce a
decision on waiving visas, because this requires the consent of Congress. He
will, nonetheless, promise to make it a priority to work with Congress; he may
also offer a more precise date by which he would like to see the visas requirement
In December, after meeting with
Komorowski, Obama would only say that he wanted to ensure that the issue was resolved
“during his presidency.” But it wasn't clear whether he meant 2012, when his first
term ends, or 2016, when - if he wins next year - his second term expires.
During preparations for
Obama's European tour, several members of Congress tried to press the White
House to commit to a firmer declaration in Warsaw. “Still, our White House
contacts didn't want to talk of specifics,” our U.S. capitol sources informed
a well-informed diplomatic correspondent for the magazoneForeign Policy, quotes Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois, who
believes, “the president should fulfill the promises made to the Polish
American community during the election campaign and settle the issue.”
Kirk took charge of lobbying
for an end to Polish visa requirements from another
Republican senator, Ohio’s George Voinovich, who retired a few months ago.
Voinovich even tried to link the Polish visa issue to support for the START Treaty with Russia, but
he failed to attract enough support from his fellow senators.
At the end of April, Senator
Kirk sent President Obama a letter in which he informed him that he would
submit a draft bill abolishing visa requirements for Polish visitors. The
letter has also been signed by five Democratic senators from Maryland, New York
and Illinois - states with large Polish-American minorities.
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