WASHINGTON – Making a public appeal to President Bush, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski (search) on Tuesday asked the United States to do away with visa requirements he contends are too harsh on Poland, especially in view of his country's support of the war in Iraq.
Bush made no commitment to change the policy, other than to say the United States would work with Poland on the issue.
Kwasniewski came to Washington hoping to win rewards for Poland's staunch support of the United States in its war in Iraq. Top on that list was the visa issue, considered an indignity by many Poles — who also are becoming increasingly opposed to Poland's continuing military involvement in Iraq.
Americans can come into Poland without a visa, and the citizens of many European nations do not need visas to enter the United States.
Though some 65,000 U.S. visa are issued to Poles each year, about 30 percent of Polish visa applications are refused. The United States has said the standard for waiving visa requirements, applied to 27 nations, is a visa refusal rate of less than 3 percent.
A reporter asked Bush about the issue at a photo opportunity at the beginning of the two leaders' meeting, and the president seemed to suggest his hands were mostly tied by "visa rules set by the Congress that are on the books."
He offered only the possibility of a new prescreening system that could reduce some inconveniences to Poles and the establishment of a U.S.-Polish study group "to make sure that we come up with rational policy."
He then sought to reassure Kwasniewski by stating how much the United States values its friendship with Poland, as well as the thousands of Polish-Americans living here. "Millions," Kwasniewski interjected. "Especially before the election, there's millions and millions."
Bush, laughing, said he looked forward to working with Poland on those issues.
"We will work, of course," replied Kwasniewski, gesturing with his hand and leaning in close to Bush as they sat in chairs in front of a fireplace in the Oval Office. "But I would like to deliver this idea to you and to our friends: The future of the world is without visa, not with visa. And that should be our goal."
As Kwasniewski repeated this several times, Bush seemed to agree. "Right," he said. "Well, it could be."
But he offered no commitment to change the policy, other than to tout a recently announced immigration proposal that would allow illegal immigrants to work legally in the United States for a temporary period.
"It will help very much. We appreciate it very much," Kwasniewski persisted. "But, please, Mr. President, the future is no visa."