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Poland probably will allow missiles, but expects benefits

President, visiting the Southland, would like military assistance.

July 19, 2007|Ann M. Simmons | Times Staff Writer

Unmoved by protests from Russia or the reservations of many of his countrymen, President Lech Kaczynski is signaling that Poland probably will allow the U.S. to base a missile defense shield in its territory -- but wants something in return.

In an interview with The Times late Tuesday, Kaczynski said Poland would have to reap some tangible benefits from such a deal.

Kaczynski said no final decision had been made about the defense system that Washington says is aimed at protecting Europe and the United States from possible strikes by Iran. But, he said, "we are every much interested ... and certainly steps have been taken."

The Polish Parliament must approve installation of 10 interceptor missiles. The plan also calls for a radar center to be set up in the Czech Republic.

A thumbs-up for the missile defense system would solidify Poland's position as a steadfast friend of the United States. Kaczynski described his nation as "probably the most pro-American society in Europe."

But the president's determination to ensure that Poland profits from any agreement shows a greater resolve to focus more on national interests, while gaining greater respect for Poland on the international stage, political analysts said.

Poland is "trying to raise its stature a bit by increasing its assertiveness," said Janusz Bugajski, director of the European Democracies Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a global defense and security policy research institute in Washington. "There's a little more underscoring of national interests regardless of what America's interests are. They have to show that they are getting something for this deal."

Speaking through an interpreter, Kaczynski said Poland would like U.S. military assistance, including access to some military technology.

Poland would like U.S. help in modernizing its Soviet-era military hardware, analysts said, and Warsaw probably wants greater intelligence cooperation with Washington as well.

"The question is," Bugajski said, "will Poland get some specific bilateral security guarantees from the United States" outside the structure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which Poland joined in 1999.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has accused Washington of "pursuing world domination" and has argued that the expansion of U.S. interests in former Soviet bloc nations would threaten Russia's security. The Kremlin has made veiled threats against Poland and the Czech Republic, warning that both countries would fall within range of new Russian missiles if they agreed to the U.S. defense shield project.

Kaczynski said that Poland is not afraid of military threats, but that his country is concerned about the possibility that Russia might withhold supplies of oil and natural gas.

The Polish leader spoke a day after a White House meeting with President Bush. He visited the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in Simi Valley, where he presented Reagan posthumously with the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest award.

Kaczynski said his admiration for the U.S. has much to do with Reagan's role in the defeat of communism and bringing democracy to the Polish people.

But critics say Kaczynski, and his identical twin, Jaroslaw, the country's prime minister, have moved toward a culturally conservative nationalism.

The Kaczynskis, who are staunch Catholics, reject gay rights, accuse the press of liberal bias and want to ensure that the educational system emphasizes Polish identity and traditional values. They have been criticized for trying to purge politicians, businesspeople and other members of the country's elite who they say illegally benefited from their support of the former communist regime.

"I wouldn't call it nationalism, I would call it patriotism, love of one's country," Lech Kaczynski said. "Nationalism in Poland means first and foremost anti-Semitism. You know, the worst of my enemies do not accuse me of anti-Semitism."

Kaczynski said claims of rising anti-Semitism in Poland are exaggerated. But members of California's Jewish community say there is cause for concern, particularly given the continued anti-Jewish rhetoric of Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, who heads the popular Radio Maryja. He has blamed Jews for Poland's economic woes and denounced Kaczynski as a "fraudster" who is in the pocket of a Jewish lobby.

Historians estimate that 3 million Polish Jews died in the Nazi Holocaust. Government efforts to address the possible return of confiscated property to the country's tiny remaining Jewish community have sparked outrage among critics such as Rydzyk.

"Anti-Semitism has not disappeared in Poland; that would be a complete exaggeration," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Los Angeles-based international Jewish human rights organization. "What [Kaczynski] should come out and publicly say is that there's no place for anti-Semitism in Poland and that the Vatican must discipline Father Rydzyk."

Hier said more than 20,000 members of the Simon Wiesenthal Center had sent e-mails to the head of the Bishop's Conference in Poland, and to the Vatican, demanding Rydzyk's removal.

Kaczynski defended his efforts to weed out prominent people who were aligned with the old communist regime, and who he has said used corruption to gain unfair advantage.

"They are now fiercely defending their position," he said. "We want to change this status quo."


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