WASHINGTON – President Bush bid farewell Wednesday to Aleksander Kwasniewski (search), saying the Polish president and close U.S. ally can leave office after 10 years with his "head held high."
Kwasniewski won favor in Washington by being among the small number of nations that has contributed troops to Iraq over the last couple of years — and the even smaller number that sent troops during the March 2003 invasion.
"Aleksander has helped advance the cause of peace by advancing the cause of freedom," Bush said after their Oval Office meeting. "He has served as a mentor for new democracies in the neighborhood."
Bush was also hosting a lunch for Kwasniewski, and the Polish leader was scheduled to meet with Vice President Dick Cheney (search). On Tuesday, Kwasniewski attended a dinner with diplomats and European experts from Washington think tanks.
During Kwasniewski's two five-year terms in office, covering the presidencies of Bill Clinton (search) and Bush, the former Warsaw Pact nation joined NATO and the European Union and established close ties with Washington.
"He has proven that you can be a friend of the United States and a loyal member of the E.U. at the same time," Bush said.
Kwasniewski said his tenure and the close U.S.-Polish alliance has marked improvements in the world.
"Together, we are building peace and stability in different parts of the world," the Polish leader said. "We have cooperated together with President Bush and we have made together very tough and very difficult and very important decisions.
Bush is especially grateful for Poland's troop contribution to Iraq, and Kwasniewski promised that Polish troops will stay until the end of January as planned no matter who succeeds him as president. About 1,500 Poles are now serving in Iraq.
But, Kwasniewski added, "We have to respect the right of the new government and the right of the new president to make their decisions about it."
Kwasniewski had been expected to seek further U.S. support for the modernization of Poland's armed forces and more investment in its economy. Asked about that, Bush merely advised the president's successor to meet with his administration as soon as possible.
"That's what friends do," he said. "They share concerns and share goals. And then work together to satisfy and achieve goals."
Kwasniewski had also planned to push for an easing of travel restrictions for Poles, some of whom believe their country's involvement in Iraq should earn them visa-free travel to America.
Also on the agenda Wednesday, according to Kwasniewski aide Andrzej Majkowski, was Poland's strained relations with its eastern neighbors Russia and Belarus. Moscow has been irritated by Poland's role in Ukraine, where Kwasniewski backed the pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko's successful drive to the presidency last year.