WARSAW, Poland – Poland's new government plans to withdraw the country's troops from Iraq next year, the prime minister said Friday in his inaugural speech to parliament. He promised to continue the country's mission in Afghanistan.
Poland has around 900 soldiers in Iraq and leads an international contingent of about 2,000 soldiers from 10 nations in the south-central part of the country.
"In a year's time, I will tell you here in this chamber that our military mission in Iraq is over," Prime Minister Donald Tusk told lawmakers to applause during a three-hour speech.
"We have taken the decision — as far as the government powers go — to make 2008 the year when the pullout of Poland's military mission is started and completed," Tusk said. "We will carry out that operation with the conviction that we have done more than what our allies — especially the U.S. — had expected from us."
President Lech Kaczynski, the armed forces' commander in chief, supports staying longer in Iraq and authorizes foreign military missions, but cannot unilaterally extend a mission that the government wants to end.
Poland's mission in Iraq has the president's authorization until the end of the year. Tusk and the president will have to hold talks to decide when and how to end the mission.
The new prime minister said Poland would keep its current troop level of 1,200 in Afghanistan next year.
Tusk also said that Poland will resume talks with the U.S. on placing a missile defense base in the country — but only after consulting with NATO and other neighboring nations — signaling a greater skepticism to the plan than the last government.
Russia has sharply opposed U.S. plans to deploy missile defense installations in Poland and neighboring Czech Republic, saying it would destabilize the balance of power in the region.
Tusk spent the largest part of his policy speech, the longest ever by any prime minister in democratic Poland, on domestic issues. He vowed to lower taxes, reduce the state deficit and put the country on the path to adopting the euro currency "as soon as possible." However, he gave no date.
The lower house, or Sejm, will take a vote of confidence on the government late Friday. Largely a formality, the government was expected to pass easily because Tusk's coalition, composed of his pro-business Civic Platform party and the centrist Polish People's Party, has 240 votes in the 460-member house.
Tusk also pledged to simplify business regulations and speed up privatization. He said less government interference was needed to stimulate the spirit of private enterprise, and thus help Poland — which shed communism in 1989 — build on the economic growth it has enjoyed in recent years.
"This is the essence of democratic capitalism, it's the essence of politics that we want to propose today to Poles — liberal political economics and a social policy of solidarity."
He pledged to lower taxes gradually for all Poles and said a priority of his government would be to modernize the dilapidated road system and the slow, outdated railways.
Tusk's EU-friendly party ousted Jaroslaw Kaczynski's nationalist, conservative government in Oct. 21 elections but failed to gain a parliamentary majority on its own. It then forged a coalition with the centrist Polish People's Party.
Before the speech, Tusk and People's Party leader Waldemar Pawlak, deputy prime minister and economics minister, signed a coalition declaration, which Tusk said was meant to guarantee "good cooperation."
Tusk, 50, was sworn in a week ago. He starts his four-year term pledging to improve ties with the European Union and in particular Germany and France after the tense nationalistic two-year rule of Kaczynski's Law and Justice party.
If Tusk succeeds with his ambitious plans to push through a wave of pro-business economic policies, speed up privatization, cut down on the number of regulations and speedily adopt the euro, Poland — the largest of the EU's eastern members — could become a model of economic discipline in the region.