U.S. President George W. Bush today is in Poland for a visit rich in symbolism. In the country where once the Warsaw Pact was framed, Bush is delivering a major speech expected to set out his vision of broad European integration within NATO and the European Union. He is also holding talks with Polish leaders and commemorating war dead in a series of wreath layings.
Prague, 15 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George Bush today sets out his vision of a free and united Europe. In what is billed as a major foreign policy speech at Warsaw University, the American leader is expected to outline his administration's hopes for broader European integration.
Bush explained to European journalists this week that the basis of his vision rests on the foundation of "freedom and democracy -- free elections, free speech, free markets." Bush has also said he conceives of a new framework for U.S. relations with Russia, and his speech in Warsaw comes only a day ahead of his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Slovenia.
Central and Eastern European leaders have been pressing for NATO to make clear which countries, if any, will be invited to join at next year's alliance summit in Prague. They will be hoping for a statement on this from Bush in his speech today.
But U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice appears to have ruled out that Bush will be specific in naming countries. She has said the president will speak in general terms.
During his current European tour, however, Bush has continued to publicly support the idea of continued NATO expansion. At an alliance summit in Brussels Wednesday (June 13) he referred to the benefits of past expansion and other achievements:
"By bringing in new members, we extended security and stability through Central Europe. By establishing the Partnership for Peace, we reached out across Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia. By our actions in the Balkans, we halted ethnic cleansing in the heart of Europe, and halted a dictator in the process."
In later remarks in Brussels, Bush foreshadowed further eastward expansion:
"All aspiring members have work to do. Yet if they continue to make the progress they are making, we will be able to launch the next round of enlargement when we meet in Prague [in 2002]. We agreed that all European democracies that seek to join our ranks and meet our standards shall have the opportunity to do so, without red lines or outside vetoes."
The phrase about rejecting "outside vetoes" was seen as a reference to Russia's staunch opposition to having the three Baltic nations -- Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania -- join NATO.
While in Warsaw, Bush is holding talks with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek. He is also laying wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, at the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial, and at the Warsaw Uprising Memorial.
Poles are aware that, in visiting Warsaw on his European tour, Bush has singled out their country from among the Central and Eastern European nations in transition. Analyst Grzegorz Kostrzewa-Zorbas, of the Polish Academy of Sciences' Institute of Political Studies, says:
"Poland is important for several reasons, especially as a symbol, as the most important proof of successful transition, of the possibility of a successful transition from communism and the Eastern bloc -- which used to be called the Warsaw Pact -- to democracy, to market economy, to economic growth and development, and to membership in Western organizations."
Kostrzewa says further that, because of this rich symbolism, Poland is the ideal site for Bush to talk about extending what the analyst calls the democratic zone of cooperation. He says:
"Secondly, Poland is a very good place to announce further plans to expand and enlarge Western institutions, the Western zone of democracy and cooperation, to more countries."
Bush leaves Poland tomorrow (Saturday) morning for Slovenia and his meeting with Putin.