Military, energy ties on agenda in Obama talks with Poland

WARSAW, May 28, 2011 (AFP) - US President Barack Obama was to wrap up his European tour by meeting Saturday with the leaders of staunch ally Poland as Warsaw gets set to take the helm of the European Union.

Fresh from a Group of Eight summit in France, and after stops in Ireland and Britain, Obama arrived in the Polish capital Friday with military and energy ties high on the agenda.

He met with more than a dozen presidents from ex-communist nations, whose two decades of democratic and market reforms he has said could provide lessons for the Arab Spring.

AFP - Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski (R) greets his US counterpart Barack Obama at the presidential palace for a dinner with leaders of central Europe in Warsaw on May 27, 2011.

"We have taken great inspiration from the blossoming of freedom and economic growth in this region and we're confident that will continue," Obama told reporters.

Washington has hailed the efforts of former Soviet bloc countries such as Poland to lend their know-how to Arab countries -- Warsaw recently sent its democracy icon Lech Walesa to advise Tunisia's new administration.

Obama had hoped to meet Saturday with Walesa, the leader of the Solidarity movement which pushed Warsaw's communist regime from power bloodlessly in 1989 and was president from 1990 to 1995.

But the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize winner snubbed an invitation to meet with the 2009 laureate along with other players in Poland's transition, saying it "would only amount to a photo opportunity".

Walesa said he wished the US president well and hoped to meet some day, but noted he would be flying to Italy on Saturday in line with earlier plans.

Poland's exit from the Soviet sphere sparked a domino effect which brought down the entire bloc by the end of 1991.

A swathe of ex-communist states have entered NATO since 1999, and the European Union since 2004.

With 38 million people, Poland is by far the largest nation to have joined the EU since its big-bang expansion from 15 members to the current 27.

Warsaw has increasingly sought to punch its weight within the EU, and in July gets a major opportunity when it takes over the bloc six-month rotating presidency.

Poland is also one of Washington's most vocal European allies, having sent troops to Iraq as part of the "coalition of the willing" of Obama's predecessor George W. Bush, and remains a major contributor in Afghanistan with a 2,600-strong deployment.

It has been seeking to bolster defence ties further via a US military presence here.

Ahead of talks Saturday with Poland's President Bronislaw Komorowski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk, a senior Obama adviser said US F-16 fighter jets and Hercules transport aircraft would be deployed in Poland on a rotating basis and an aviation detachment stationed permanently.

That could anger Warsaw's Soviet-era master Moscow, which bristles at US military moves on its doorstep despite US and Polish insistence there is no threat.

Last year saw the first three rotations of unarmed training batteries of US Patriot missiles in Poland, a move which also sparked Russia's ire. Four rotations are planned this year.

Also on the agenda, officials said, was Poland's drive to tap its shale gas deposits. A recent US study estimated they could provide 5.3 trillion cubic metres of natural gas that could last some 300 years.

The United States has become a global leader in the production of natural gas extracted from shale.

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