- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2008

CHICAGO | President-elect Barack Obama’s private conversation with Poland’s president created an international disagreement Saturday, with President Lech Kaczynski saying Mr. Obama promised to continue a missile-defense system and the transition office saying the Democrat made no such commitment.

President Bush’s White House declined to weigh in on the Friday phone call between the Polish leader and Mr. Obama, who will take office Jan. 20.

Mr. Obama has spoken with at least 15 world leaders including Mr. Kaczynski and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

Mr. Kaczynski issued a statement in the Polish-language section of his Web site saying the U.S. president-elect “emphasized the importance of the strategic partnership of Poland and the United States and expressed hope in the continuation of political and military cooperation between our countries. He also said that the missile-defense project would continue.”

Obama senior foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough released a statement once the news came from Poland.

“President-elect had a good conversation with the Polish president and the Polish prime minister about the important U.S.-Poland alliance,” Mr. McDonough said. “President Kaczynski raised missile defense but President-elect Obama made no commitment on it. His position is as it was throughout the campaign — that he supports deploying a missile-defense system when the technology is proved to be workable.”

Politico.com reported Saturday night that Obama advisers Susan Rice and Tony Lake e-mailed “Obama foreign policy experts” with details on the transition and a warning they should not “under any circumstances speak to the press, any foreign officials, or embassies on behalf of the transition or President-elect Obama.”

“We cannot emphasize enough the importance of this request. It would be highly damaging for foreign governments or media to receive information that they believe falsely to represent the views of the president-elect,” they wrote in an e-mail dated Nov. 7.

Mr. Obama was skeptical of the missile shield during the campaign, saying it would require much more rigorous testing to ensure it would work and justify its cost.

The U.S. and Poland signed an agreement in August for basing American interceptor missiles in Poland as part of a shield against possible missile attacks from Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East.

A missile shield set up so close to its borders has been a sore point with Russia and has dented its battered relationship with the U.S.

On Wednesday, the day after Mr. Obama won the election, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the Kremlin would move short-range missiles to Russia’s borders with NATO allies, even as the U.S. offered new proposals on nuclear arms reductions as well as offering to have Russian observers at the planned missile-defense sites.

Under the U.S. plan, 10 interceptor missiles would be placed in Poland and radar systems would be located in the Czech Republic. Mr. Bush wanted construction of the shield to begin before he left office in January with a completion date of 2012.

Defense Department analysts say more interceptor testing is required, which could delay the program for years.

Mr. Obama spoke to Mr. Medvedev on Saturday. A Kremlin statement said the two men “expressed the determination to create constructive and positive interaction for the good of global stability and development” and agreed that their countries had a common responsibility to address “serious problems of a global nature.”

According to the Russian statement, Mr. Medvedev and Mr. Obama believe an “early bilateral meeting” should be arranged. The Obama office did not issue a statement describing the call.

Mr. Tusk, the Polish prime minister, posted a letter of congratulations to Mr. Obama on his Web site, saying he was “convinced that this is a good choice for America, for Poland and for the future of our entire world.”

Mr. Tusk also invited Mr. Obama to visit Poland.

“Poland and the United States are linked with close ties of friendship and brotherhood, whose roots are [embedded] deeply in the past. The recent years saw a particularly intensive development of relations between our states based, among others, on common cooperation in Iraq and in Afghanistan,” Mr. Tusk said, adding that “The democratic world needs a strong United States, open to cooperation with those who want peace and security. The trans-Atlantic relations are of special importance for those matters, which is why I count on the revitalization and strengthening of the trans-Atlantic cooperation.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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