Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland

Poland to Give Obama an Earful About Ending U.S. Visa Requirements


"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 has huge symbolic meaning to the Polish public."


By Bartosz Węglarczyk



Translated By Halszka Czarnocka


May 24, 2011


Poland - Gazeta Wyborcza - Original Article (Polish)

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 Washington.


“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 quote].


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 the Schengen 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 source said.


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 abolished.


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 us.


Josh Rogin, a well-informed diplomatic correspondent for the magazone Foreign 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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[Posted by WORLDMEETS.US May 26, 12:29am]


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