- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2011


Only three months after President Obama took office, Poland felt abandoned by the new Democratic administration, which was suspected of moving quietly to kill a Bush-era, Polish-based missile-defense shield for Eastern Europe that Russia strongly opposed.

“There is a growing fear among Polish government elites that Poland has become an afterthought, or even a nuisance, in Washington circles,” Victor H. Ashe, U.S. ambassador in Warsaw at the time, wrote in classified cable to the State Department.

“This is hard to swallow for a country that considers itself a loyal ally and important contributor to U.S. strategic interests in greater Europe and Afghanistan.”

Reports of the cable, released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, first appeared in the Polish press this week.

Mr. Ashe, ambassador in Warsaw from 2004 to September 2009, also noted that Polish President Lech Kaczyniski told Polish reporters that “any U.S. decision to withdraw from missile defense to assuage Russia would be ‘an unfriendly gesture towards Poland.’ “

Russia strongly objected to the missile-defense plan proposed by President George W. Bush, who wanted to install 10 long-range missile interceptors in Poland and a radar facility in the neighboring Czech Republic. The system was designed to prevent attacks from rogue nations, such as Iran.

In November 2008, shortly after Mr. Obama won the presidential election, Mr. Kaczyniski said he held a private telephone conversation with Mr. Obama, who reassured him that he would deploy the missile system. An Obama aide denied Mr. Kaczyniski’s account of the phone call.

Mr. Obama later scrapped the Bush system and endorsed a smaller missile shield for Europe, alleviating Russian objections.

Mr. Ashe also reported that the “Poles are increasingly frustrated about the absence of regular, expected contacts” with the new administration.

Mr. Kaczyniski, along with top Polish officials, died in a plane crash in April 2010. His successor, Bronislav Komorowski, met with Mr. Obama at the White House in December.

Mr. Ashe, a political appointee, was replaced with another political appointee, Lee Feinstein, who served as a foreign-policy adviser to the Obama campaign in 2008.


American diplomats and their families crowded aboard a Maltese ferry boat bobbed between “hell and high water” for 36 hours, waiting for calm seas and listening to gunfire from Tripoli, the U.S. ambassador to Malta said, describing their harrowing escape from Libya.

Ambassador Douglas Kmiec arranged the rescue by chartering the ferry and dispatching a team of “trained consular, Coast Guard and Navy personnel.” Libya initially refused to allow the boat to dock but later granted permission to the rescue mission.

They loaded Americans, Australians, Canadians and Maltese desperate to leave Libya, the ambassador said.

“When the boat was ready to disembark, it turned out Mother Nature was no longer on our side,” Mr. Kmiec explained in an email to Pepperdine University in California, where he taught law before assuming the post as ambassador in September.

The United States faced criticism for the delay in the rescue, but the ambassador said there was nothing else to do with the Mediterranean churning 15-foot waves in gale-force winds.

“The choice seemed to be risk drowning or sitting for an indefinite period of time, as a possible sitting duck,” he said.

Mr. Kmiec, directing the mission from the U.S. Embassy in the Maltese capital of Valleta, stayed in touch with the crew and diplomatic rescue team by a satellite phone that provided what he called “fragmentary” communication.

The ferry finally departed for Malta on Feb. 23, he said.

“During the voyage, Secretary of State [Hillary Rodham] Clinton called to wish the crew and passengers a safe journey, and, some 30 or more hours later, the vessel arrived back in Malta,” the ambassador wrote.

As they waited for the weather to calm and listened to the sounds of fighting on shore in Tripoli, he said, the refugees were “literally between hell and high water.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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