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U.S. and Polish Presidential Visits throughout History

President Barack Obama will visit Poland in May 2011, continuing a tradition of high level visits between leaders of the U.S. and Poland. Every year, thousands of Americans and Poles travel between the two countries for business, education, cultural exchanges, military cooperation, visiting friends and relatives, and simply tourism.  This broad level of collaboration and interaction has helped make America and Poland close friends and allies.  Presidential visits symbolize the importance of this close relationship and help advance many political and economic issues.

The first American president to visit Poland was Richard Nixon, who arrived on May 31, 1972.  President Nixon, who had previously traveled to Poland as Vice-President in 1959, declared: “For the first time in the long history and friendly history between our two countries, a President of the United States stands on Polish soil.  I bring greetings of friendship from all of the American people to all of the Polish people… Niech zyje Polska. [Long live Poland.]”

The next president, Gerald Ford, visited Poland in July of 1975, though he had also visited before becoming president.  President Ford focused on promoting trade between the countries, including tax issues, industrial cooperation, and research into science and technology.  President Ford said, “I am deeply gratified by the expansion of contacts between our two countries, by the rapid growth in trade, and by new forms of bilateral cooperation.”

President Jimmy Carter came to Poland in December, 1977.  President Carter, who chose Polish-born Zbigniew Brzezinski as his National Security Advisor, believed strongly in promoting human rights around the world.  During a formal dinner at the Wilanow Palace in Warsaw, he raised a toast: “On behalf of the people of the United States… to the indomitable spirit and to the freedom of the Polish people.”

President Ronald Reagan did not visit Poland during the time of martial law in the 1980s, but strongly supported the struggle of the Polish people for freedom through speeches directly to the Polish people and meetings with leading Poles like Pope John Paul II.  President Reagan finally visited Poland in 1990, after leaving office, to show his support for the transition to democracy.  According to press reports, his speech to political leaders in Warsaw’s Royal Castle was so popular that it was interrupted ten times by applause from the audience.

President George Herbert Walker Bush visited Poland as both Vice-President and as President.  In July 1989, President Bush met with government and Solidarity leaders and addressed the National Assembly.  In July 1992, he attended the re-burial of Ignacy Jan Paderewski in St John’s Cathedral in Warsaw along with Polish President Lech Walesa.  President Bill Clinton came twice to Poland while President, in 1994 and 1997.  During the second visit, President Clinton invited Poland to join NATO, declaring, “Finally, we fulfill Poland’s destiny as a free nation at the heart of Europe.”

President George W. Bush visited Poland in 2001, 2003 and 2007.  In 2001, President Bush gave a speech at Warsaw University, and visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where he asserted, “Some of the most courageous moments of the 20th century took place in this nation.”  On subsequent visits, President Bush visited Gdansk and Krakow.  President Barack Obama planned to visit Poland for the funeral of President Lech Kaczynski, but was unable to fly because of the ash of a volcano in Iceland.

Every Polish president since the fall of communism has visited America.  President Lech Walesa first visited the U.S. in March 1991, flying to Washington, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.  He encouraged Polish-Americans and others to invest in the Polish economy, and was successful in lobbying for relief of Poland’s official debt.

President Aleksander Kwasniewski visited the U.S. several times, including a week-long visit in 2005.  During that time, he spoke at the 60th Session of the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York, to students at Columbia University, and at the Aspen Institute in Colorado.  He also met with President George W. Bush to discuss political developments around the world.

President Lech Kaczynski also traveled to America on a number of occasions.  His first trip to the U.S, in February 2006, was only his second foreign trip as President of Poland.  President Kaczynski returned for visits in 2007 and 2009, including to missile defense facilities at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and to visit members of America’s Polish community in Chicago and New York.

This will be President Komorowski’s first visit as President, though he traveled to the United States in the past.  These visits include participation in the International Visitor Leadership Program, a U.S. State Department-funded exchange program for leaders from around the world, as Vice-Marshall of the Sejm in 2006. 

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