- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 21, 2002

The Polish state visit
Any time an article makes the people written about too happy, we get nervous. Were we too kind to them? Should we have been a bit tougher?
I found myself asking those questions when the praise came in from both the Polish government and the Bush administration over our interview Monday with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski.
But reporter Nicholas Kralev had not backed away from the tough questions about Poland's economy and political problems, as the accompanying transcript showed. If the two governments were pleased, it was because of Mr. Kwasniewski's answers, not our questions.
The newspaper, meanwhile, had the honor of publishing the only U.S. interview with Mr. Kwasniewski a day before he arrived in Washington for just the second full-scale state visit since President Bush became president.
It almost didn't happen.
It was mid-June when I went to the Polish Embassy for a luncheon, uncertain what it was about or who would be there. To my surprise, I was the only journalist invited; also present were the ambassador, a senior adviser to Mr. Kwasniewski who was visiting from Warsaw, and a couple of other embassy officials.
The food was excellent and the conversation stimulating, as was to be expected. But it was not clear to me exactly why I had been invited, except that the embassy seemed to want to be sure that I was aware of the state visit (I had not been, until then).
Clearly, I thought, the Poles were hoping for some press attention to their president's visit and were likely to cooperate with any request.
So when plans became firm a week or two later for Mr. Kralev to travel to Riga, Latvia, in early July for a summit of NATO hopefuls, I asked him to get in touch with the Polish Embassy and see whether it would be possible to tack on a stop in Warsaw and interview Mr. Kwasniewski about his plans for the Washington trip.
Time was already running out, but the embassy was very cooperative and Mr. Kralev received word that the interview was confirmed just two hours before he was scheduled to leave for Europe. He quickly booked a hotel in Warsaw and changed his air reservations to include a stopover on his way home from Riga. We were all set.

A last-minute hitch
All set, that is, until Mr. Kralev arrived at his hotel in Warsaw the night before the interview. He had been checked in for less than an hour when he received a telephone call from a press official in the president's office.
The woman, clearly embarrassed, told Mr. Kralev there had been some changes to the president's schedule and the interview would have to be canceled.
Mr. Kralev reports that he protested vigorously, pointing out that he had flown to Warsaw exclusively for the purpose of the interview and that something must be done before he left Poland at 5 p.m. the next day.
He also e-mailed me in Washington to report what was happening. I, in turn, called my contacts at the Polish Embassy and asked whether they were able to intervene to get the interview rescheduled.
The embassy staffers were clearly embarrassed and assured me they were making every effort to set matters right. And apparently they were, because Mr. Kralev received another phone call a couple of hours later to say that the interview was on again at the originally scheduled time.
"Obviously, you made a lot of noise in Washington," the woman laughed.
The interview itself went smoothly.
It was conducted at a sparsely furnished room at the palace with just Mr. Kwasniewski, Mr. Kralev and the president's top press aide present, and lasted about 45 minutes.
Mr. Kwasniewski speaks good English, but preferred to answer the questions in Polish. Both wore small microphones for the benefit of an official translator in another room, and Mr. Kralev was fitted with a set of headphones so he could hear the answers in English.
In the interview, Mr. Kwasniewski revealed himself as a strong supporter of Mr. Bush's foreign policy, endorsing the conduct of the war on terrorism and rejecting the complaints of his fellow Europeans that the United States is too unilateral in its approach.
Mr. Kralev made that the lead of his article and apparently that was the message that Mr. Kwasniewski had wanted to get across to Washington.
David W. Jones in the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is [email protected]


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