Rice Welcomes Polish Prime Minister on First U.S. Visit

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice welcomed Polish Prime Minister Jaroslav Kaczynski to the State Department on Wednesday, praising his country as a "fierce fighter in the defense of freedom."

Appearing with Rice at a brief photo session before a luncheon meeting, Kaczynski said the goals of the two countries can be summed up in one word: "freedom."

During their meeting, they were expected to discuss the possibility of Poland serving as a hub for a U.S. missile defense project.

According to a schedule released before Kaczynski's arrival, he was to meet with President Bush at mid-afternoon but White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said there was no such meeting on Bush's schedule.

She said a meeting was planned with Vice President Dick Cheney. "If the president were to drop by, we would let you know," she added.

The visit is Kaczynski's first since taking over the government in July.

The administration has been grateful for Poland's troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Iraq, around 900 Polish soldiers currently command a multinational division south of Baghdad. Poland also has about 100 soldiers in Afghanistan as part of the NATO force.

The United States has been examining the feasibility of setting up a missile defense capability in Europe for several years, and discussions have been held with Poland and the Czech Republic about hosting them. Potential sites in both countries have been visited for a small number of long-range interceptor missiles and radar.

At present, no missile defense sites have been installed outside U.S. territory. The goal would be to protect Europe against possible attack by intercontinental-range missiles.

Kaczynski aide Leszek Jesien said no final decision on the issue is expected during the prime minister's visit.

Government spokesman Jan Dziedziczak said the agenda also includes talks on the situation in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, Poland's eastern neighbors.

Kaczynski plans to meet with business leaders and representatives of the Polish and Jewish communities. He also will attend a ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas, on Thursday marking the hand-over of the first of Poland's 48 new F-16 fighter jets.