Obama to ease visa requirement for Poles: diplomat

Reuters News
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Posted: May 28, 2011 6:38 AM
Obama to ease visa requirement for Poles: diplomat

WARSAW (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will make a gesture of solidarity with Poland during talks in Warsaw on Saturday by proposing an easing of the visa regime for Poles traveling to the United States, a senior Polish diplomat said.

The visa issue is the main irritant in traditionally cordial relations between the two NATO allies, though Obama will need the support of Congress to make the change.

Relaxing the visa requirement would improve Polish perceptions of the United States and could help Prime Minister Donald Tusk's center-right government ahead of October elections.

"President Obama will propose a change in their regulations that allow a country to enter the Visa Waiver Program on the basis of overstays rather than refusals (of visas)," the senior Polish diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

"This would be beneficial for us."

In televised comments during a conversation with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, Obama said: "As regards the visa regime between our two countries, we are working on it."

He did not comment further but the two presidents were due to make statements shortly.

Poles have long fumed over having to queue outside the U.S. embassy for hours to buy a visa to visit the United States, especially after Warsaw sent troops to serve alongside U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We have been repeatedly told that we are America's most loyal ally, but when it comes down to things, we have to queue for visas along with tourists from high-risk countries," said Agata Widera, 21, a history student.

"I hope this matter will finally be solved." Obama arrived in Poland on Friday for two days of talks focusing on missile defense, energy security and promoting democracy in eastern Europe and the Arab world.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, writing by Gareth Jones, editing by Tim Pearce)