Rice Thanks Poland for Iraq Support

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) on Saturday thanked the government of Poland, an important ally in Iraq, for its continued support in the war despite public opposition.

Rice was meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Adam Rotfeld (search) and the prime minister, Marek Belka.

Poland has about 2,400 troops in Iraq and there recently has been some discussion about reducing that number. Polls have indicated strong public opposition to Poland's involvement in the war.

Iraq topped Rice's agenda. Poland is also seeking an easing of visa requirements for Poles wishing to travel to the United States.

Earlier in her first trip as the United States' senior diplomat, Rice thanked Britain, America's staunchest ally in the Iraq war and pledged a "new chapter" in relations with Germany, which opposed the war but now wants to support democracy in Iraq.

Rice said her first stop was London "because we have no better friend, we have no better ally."

She was visiting Poland and Turkey on Saturday. Both are European countries that supported the U.S.-led war or its aftermath.

Calming waters still troubled by the war is a major aim of Rice's weeklong trip through Europe and the Middle East. Her jammed schedule takes her to two or three countries each day.

Rice seemed to make headway in Germany, where Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's government fiercely opposed the war and refused to commit troops.

"We have discussed this topic at length and we very strongly agree that what the country now needs is a perspective towards the course of democracy and stability for its future," Schroeder said through a translator after an hourlong meeting with Rice.

"We are very much agreed on this purpose and on this being the important point, irrespective of what one thought about the military intervention in Iraq in the first place."

Russia was also critical of U.S. policies in Iraq. Rice, an academic specialist in the former Soviet Union and a Russian speaker, holds a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during her visit to Turkey. Later in the trip, Rice will give a major speech in Paris, a venue chosen in part to answer continued French criticism of American foreign policy.

President Bush will make a separate fence-mending trip to Europe later this month, and will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin (search). Rice will accompany Bush on that trip, and her current tour lays some groundwork.

At each stop, Rice talks about Iraq, but also about peace prospects nearby in the Middle East. She travels to Jerusalem for meetings Sunday with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, but won't attend a Mideast summit in Egypt.

"You don't have to be at every gathering at the highest level to be a player and to be a part of the solution," Adam Ereli, the State Department's deputy spokesman, said Friday.