WASHINGTON – President Bush said he sought advice from Polish President Lech Kaczynski Thursday about Ukraine, which Kaczynski is hoping to help bring into the NATO alliance in the next two years.
In their first meeting since Kaczynski took office in December, the two leaders discussed trade and other international issues during a meeting that started in the Oval Office and led to lunch in the executive residence.
Poland is one of the strongest U.S. allies in Europe, and Bush said he thanked Kaczynski for their support of the war in Iraq. They also discussed Kaczynski's desire for NATO to expand to include its neighbor Ukraine, which used to be part of the Soviet Union and is now a democracy, by 2008.
"I asked the president his advice on Ukraine," Bush said. "That's what friends do — they share information and share strategic thoughts."
Kaczynski said they also discussed Poland's strained relations with Russia. Poland, where memories of domination by Moscow during the Cold War are still fresh, angered Moscow with its support for Ukraine's so-called "Orange Revolution," in which pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko won election over a candidate backed by Moscow.
"There have been certain signals that might lead to an improvement of relations between the Republic of Poland and the Russian Federation," Kaczynski said. "We have no certainty yet, but these signals we have received, and we're hoping for an improvement in relations between Poland and Russia."
Kaczynski, a conservative former Solidarity activist jailed by the communists in the 1980s, took over in December from former communist Aleksander Kwasniewski.
Later Thursday, Kaczynski was meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and congressional leaders, then playing host to Polish-Americans at a reception.
He is leaving Friday for Chicago after witnessing signings of bilateral agreements on science and technological cooperation and training for Polish pilots on F-16 jet fighters. He is also meeting with representatives of the American Jewish Committee, who worked with him when he was mayor of Warsaw on plans to establish a museum commemorating the history of Polish Jews.
In Bush's fiscal budget request Monday, Poland would receive $30 million "to continue defense reform." That is the same amount it got in 2006.
Poland is reducing its training mission in central Iraq from 1,500 troops to 900. Kaczynski has indicated that Poland might consider extending its mission past the end of 2006, although he stressed that would require a formal decision. He has said he "could not imagine" staying beyond 2007.