WASHINGTON – President Bush said Wednesday he will ask Congress for $100 million to help modernize the armed forces of Poland, (search) a staunch ally in the war in Iraq -- a nearly 50 percent increase over last year .
During an Oval Office meeting with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski (search), Bush said he was confident that Congress would approve the money. The United States gave Poland $67 million in military aid last year.
"Poland has been a fantastic ally because the president and the people of Poland love freedom," Bush said. "I know the people of your country must have been thrilled when the millions of people went to the polls" in Iraq.
The money will be part of the estimated $80 billion war funding request the White House is expected to submit to Congress next week.
Poland has taken command of a multinational security force in central Iraq (search) that currently includes about 6,000 troops --among them more than 2,400 Polish soldiers. Poland, however, recently disclosed plans to withdraw about 800 of those troops, leaving about 1,600 there until the end of the year.
On another issue, Kwasniewski said that he and Bush talked about adopting a "road map" to ease visa requirements for Poles traveling to the United States.
The visa requirement is unpopular in Poland, where a jobless rate of about 19 percent drives many people to seek jobs abroad, including in America. The Poles have pressed for an easing of requirements in return for their involvement in Iraq, where 16 Polish troops have been killed.
"Both President Bush and myself talked about the adoption of the road map that is going to solve the visa problem," Kwasniewski said through a translator. "And it implies concrete decisions that are going to be made in relation to the visa regime, doing away with some old information, old data, statistics, concerning the immigration violation from before 1989; easing of the procedures ... and further cooperation with the Congress in order to facilitate the process as much as possible," Kwasniewski said through a translator.
"We hope that the road map that has been accepted will be a very good solution," he said.
Asked whether he would support legislation introduced in Congress to address the visa problem, Bush said, "Well, we've got a way forward to answer the questions of a lot of the members of the United States Congress to get this issue solved."
He said Kwasniewski had been working hard to develop a road map that is fair to the Polish people. "I adopt the principles and accept the recommendations of the road map," Bush said, "and that'll become the basis for legislation."