- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 18, 2002

The United States and Poland agreed to boost military and economic cooperation during Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski's state visit to Washington yesterday, as President Bush hoped that Warsaw would choose U.S. F-16 fighters to replace its aging MiG-21s.

Mr. Bush pledged to help Poland, one of NATO's three newest members, transform its military to meet the alliance's standards, and to help "improve Poland's investment climate." U.S. and European companies are trying to snatch the upcoming contract, worth more than $3 billion.

"America and Poland see the world in similar terms," Mr. Bush said at a joint press conference with his guest in the White House's East Room. "We both understand the importance of defeating the forces of global terror. Our nations also understand the importance of building a better world beyond terror."

Mr. Kwasniewski, who has emerged as the staunchest European supporter of Mr. Bush's foreign policy, said: "We want to reconfirm our readiness to continue this combat."

In an interview with The Washington Times last week, the Polish leader dismissed European complaints that the Bush administration was conducting unilateral policies. Multilateralism, he said, is a "conviction" of both Mr. Bush and his advisers, and "not a tactical move related to the building of the anti-terrorist coalition."

His vocal support won him only the second state visit of Mr. Bush's presidency, after Mexican President Vicente Fox's visit immediately before September 11. Mr. Kwasniewski is the first Polish leader to make a state visit to Washington since President Lech Walesa in 1991.

Mr. Bush rolled out the red carpet for Mr. Kwasniewski, holding a White House South Lawn welcoming ceremony complete with a fife and drum corps and a 21-gun salute, followed by Oval Office talks, the news conference and a black-tie state dinner.

The warm welcome, Mr. Bush said, reflected Washington's approval of Poland's democratic and economic reforms and its place as a NATO ally and future European Union member "in the heart of Europe."

Despite its impressive performance since the end of the Cold War, the Polish economy has been shaky in the past couple of years, partly because of the global slowdown. Mr. Kwasniewski wants to bring home new promises of direct U.S. investment in his country.

During his talks with Mr. Bush, Mr. Kwasniewski also stressed his strong support for NATO's further expansion at the alliance's November summit in Prague, where as many as seven nations are expected to be invited to join. Mr. Kwasniewski made clear he backs all seven: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Mr. Bush praised, but did not commit to, a Polish proposal to increase NATO cooperation with the countries that will win invitations this year as well as those in waiting. "It's something that caught our imagination and caught our attention," he said. "We want to explore that with him further."

Today, the two leaders are scheduled to fly on Air Force One to Troy, Mich., for visits with Polish-American leaders.

Mr. Bush lost Michigan to Democrat Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election. The state is considered by White House advisers to be of "special concern" in the midterm elections in November. People of Polish ancestry make up nearly 9 percent of Michigan's population.

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