By VANESSA GERA, AP, Nov 23, 2007
WARSAW, Poland - Poland's new prime minister outlined ambitious plans for the next four years in his inaugural address Friday, saying he plans to withdraw troops from Iraq next year but also push for stronger relations with NATO.
In a three-hour speech to parliament, Donald Tusk laid out a vision for the country that includes more capitalism — privatization, tax cuts and simplifying business laws — to bolster the economy of this ex-communist country.
While Tusk and his Civic Platform party want to continue the strong friendship with the U.S., he gave a taste of plans that, taken together, would suggest that the country plans to assert more independence in its relations with Washington.
Tusk said that, by the end of next year, Poland would withdraw its 900 troops from Iraq, where it leads an international contingent of about 2,000 soldiers from 10 nations in the south-central part of the country.
"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," he said.
Tusk's call for a pullout came as no surprise. He campaigned on promises to end the unpopular mission, clashing on the issue with his opponent, then-incumbent Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who argued that withdrawing would amount to desertion.
His twin brother, President Lech Kaczynski, who is the armed forces' commander in chief, supports staying in Iraq longer and has the power to authorize foreign military missions. But he cannot unilaterally extend a mission 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.
Tusk said he planned to keep Poland's 1,200-member force in Afghanistan next year.
U.S. State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said Friday that the U.S. had been discussing the issue with the new Polish government and was grateful for Poland's contribution.
"Poland had indicated that it will consult fully with the United States and other allies when conducting their withdrawal to ensure that there is not any reduction in stability in the area they are leaving," Vasquez said.
Tusk also said he will resume talks with the U.S. on accepting a U.S. missile defense base in Poland — but only after consulting with NATO and other neighboring countries — signaling a greater hesitancy over the plan than the previous government.
"NATO is the main pillar and guarantor of Poland's security," Tusk said.
U.S.-Polish talks on the missile shield plan began earlier this year under Kaczynski's government, which strongly supported hosting a site as a way of bolstering the trans-Atlantic alliance.
Russia has sharply opposed U.S. plans to deploy missile defense installations in Poland and the neighboring Czech Republic, saying it would destabilize the balance of power in the region.
Many of Tusk's points were met by applause in the chamber, although the sheer length of his speech — the longest by a prime minister since the fall of Communism — was clearly an annoyance to some.
Some lawmakers could be seen rubbing their eyes or dozing off, while an opposition lawmaker slammed Tusk's long speech as reminiscent of long-winded Communists.
"Donald Tusk is the Fidel Castro of Polish politics," said Zbigniew Girzynski, a lawmaker with Law and Justice.
Tusk, who was sworn in a week ago, spent the largest part of the policy speech on domestic issues. He vowed to lower taxes, reduce the state deficit and put the country on the path to adopt the euro currency "as soon as possible." However, he gave no date.
Tusk pledged to simplify business regulations and speed up privatization. He said less government interference was needed to stimulate private enterprise in Poland, which shed Communism in 1989.
He also said a priority of his government would be to modernize the dilapidated road system and the outdated railways.
Tusk's 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.
Associated Press writers Monika Scislowska and Ryan Lucas contributed to this report.