President Barack Obama said Poland serves as a “living example” for democratic transition in the Middle East and North Africa and promised closer cooperation between the two counties on economic and energy issues.
“Poland is one of our strongest and closest allies in the world,” Obama said at a news conference in Warsaw with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. It stands as “a living example of what is possible when countries take reform seriously.”
Obama said he had an “extensive” discussion with Polish leaders about Poland’s shale gas reserves and that the U.S. would share its technology on energy extraction.
“We are also aiming to expand our bilateral economic relationship with Poland,” Obama said. “Poland’s economy was the only economy in the EU not to fall into recession during the economic crisis and has enormous potential for economic growth.”
Obama returns home today after a six-day European trip and will hit the road again tomorrow to visit the town of Joplin, Missouri, where tornadoes killed at least 116 people last week. He’ll also be occupied by negotiations, led by Vice President Joe Biden, with congressional Republicans to trim cumulative budget deficits and raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit before an Aug. 2 deadline.
Obama and Tusk pledged cooperation on energy development, including tapping Poland’s shale gas reserves and expanding nuclear power.
“This is a moment of breakthrough,” Tusk said at the news conference with Obama. “We’re talking about cooperation and investments between two partners of whom one is a leader regarding technology, and the other has turned out to be a leader in terms of resources.”
Poland may have as much as 187 trillion cubic feet (5.3 trillion cubic meters) of shale gas reserves, according to estimates by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That would meet domestic demand for three centuries, enabling the European Union’s biggest eastern member to reach its goal of independence from Russian gas imports.
“We had an extensive discussion about both shale gas and nuclear power,” Obama said at today’s press conference. “I think Prime Minister Tusk and I both believe that it’s important for us to diversify our energy sources.”
Poland’s resources are attracting attention from Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips, the three biggest U.S. oil companies, which are among those granted 86 licenses to explore for shale gas. It could cost as much as 50 million zloty ($18 million) for each of the 124 exploratory wells needed to search for Poland’s reserves, Deputy Treasury Minister Mikolaj Budzanowski said earlier this month, putting the total investment needed at as much as 6.2 billion zloty.
Standing next to his Polish counterpart, Obama said he supports legislation in Congress that would make it easier for Poles to travel to the states. Poland doesn’t meet the criteria under an existing law, passed after the Sept. 11 attacks, that would allow its citizens to enter the U.S. without a visa.
The visa issue has been a source of tension in the U.S.- Poland relationship.
“We very much want you to shop on Fifth Avenue,” he said, responding to a question from the Polish media.
Symbol of Democracy
Obama also stressed Poland’s role as a symbol for countries in the Middle East and North Africa for making the transition to democracy.
Poland “has gone through what many countries want to now go through,” Obama said. “We welcome their leadership in reaching out to North Africa and the Middle East.”
Obama said he and Tusk also talked about political repression in Belarus and had harsh words for the leader of Poland’s Central European neighbor, Aleksandr Lukashenko.
“President Lukashenko has shown a total disregard for democratic values, the rule of law and human rights of his own people,” he said.
Obama said yesterday that the U.S. will pursue new sanctions against some Belarusian state-owned enterprises following the conviction and sentencing of opposition presidential candidates. The measures would be in addition to travel restrictions, asset freezes and other sanctions announced in January.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at firstname.lastname@example.org