In Poland, Obama seeks to affirm U.S. commitment
Ukraine to dominate president’s four-day visit to Europe.
Published: June 3, 2014 09:41PM
Updated: June 3, 2014 09:46PM
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U.S. President Barack Obama and Poland's President Bronislaw Komorowski gesture towards each other at a news conference at Belweder Palace in Warsaw, Poland, Tuesday, June 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Warsaw, Poland • President Barack Obama flew to Warsaw on Tuesday to unveil a $1 billion security plan intended to demonstrate the United States’ “rock-solid commitment” to stand with Central and Eastern Europe against Russian aggression, but it did not settle nerves rattled by the crisis in neighboring Ukraine.

Arriving for the start of a four-day swing through Europe certain to be dominated by the continuing tension with Moscow, Obama announced a program to expand military training, joint exercises and troop rotations while prepositioning equipment in the region to bolster defenses for U.S. allies.

“Our commitment to Poland’s security, as well as the security of our allies in Central and Eastern Europe, is a cornerstone of our own security and it is sacrosanct,” Obama told a contingent of 50 U.S. and Polish airmen and service members in an airplane hangar where they serve together. “As friends and as allies, we stand united, together and forever.”

The security program he announced will require congressional approval, so it meant no immediate assistance for Poland or other allies. Obama offered none of the short-term reinforcements much less the permanent base sought by Warsaw; some leading Polish figures expressed disappointment.

“President Obama’s declaration has left us a bit hungry,” said Joachim Brudzinski, president of the executive committee of Poland’s largest opposition party, Law and Justice. “It lacks specifics. It doesn’t answer this very important for us question: What does it mean in relation to the presence of U.S. troops in Poland?”

Krzysztof Kubiak, a foreign policy expert at the University of Lower Silesia in Wroclaw, said Obama’s announcement was just “a smokescreen” because after two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military is drained and its public ready to pull back.

“The only way for Americans to prove their full commitment to Poland’s and this region’s safety is to move one of their large military installations from one of the old NATO members to Poland,” he said.

Obama arrived at a tense time in the region. Although Russia has been pulling troops back from the border with Ukraine, violence has continued to erupt in the eastern part of Ukraine as pro-Russian separatists wage a low-grade insurgency against the government in Kiev.

Obama used the visit to insist that Russia stop the flow of militants and weapons across the border and use its influence to press the separatists to stand down.

White House on defensive on prisoner swap

Arriving in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday on the first leg of a four-day European trip, Obama found himself on the defensive over whether Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl deserved special efforts to bring him home. “The United States has always had a pretty sacred rule, and that is, we don’t leave our men or women in uniform behind.”

Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, traveled to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to calm Democrats at their weekly caucus lunch a day after, saying that “we didn’t have 30 days” to inform Congress about the negotiations with the Taliban. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she had received a call from Antony Blinken, the deputy national security adviser, on Monday night apologizing for the failure to notify Congress. The ranking Republican, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, said he had received a similar apology Monday night.

The White House’s problem has its roots in a federal statute that requires the secretary of defense, before transferring a detainee from the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to notify Congress 30 days beforehand. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel provided that notice only as the transfer was already taking place.

The New York Times