Presidents of United States and Poland to discuss NATO, Iraq, U.S.-Polish trade in White House meeting

The future of NATO, Iraq and U.S.-Polish trade are among topics that Poland 's new president is expected to discuss at a meeting Thursday with President George W. Bush.

Lech Kaczynski, a conservative former Solidarity activist jailed by the communists in the 1980s, took over in December from former communist Aleksander Kwasniewski after the end of his maximum two five-year terms.

After formal talks and lunch with Bush at the White House, Kaczynski meets with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and congressional leaders, then plays host to Polish-Americans at a reception.

He leaves Friday for Chicago after witnessing signings of bilateral agreements on science and technological cooperation and training for Polish pilots on F-16 jet fighters. He also meets with representatives of the American Jewish Committee, who worked with him when he was mayor of Warsaw on plans to establish a History of Polish Jews museum.

Poland is one of the strongest U.S. allies in Europe . A July poll commissioned by the German Marshall Fund of the United States found that 52 percent of Poles approved of Bush's foreign policy. That was by far the highest approval level in Europe and higher even than the percentage of Americans questioned in the same survey.

In Bush's fiscal budget request Monday, Poland would receive $30 million (25 million euros) "to continue defense reform." That is the same amount it got in 2006.

Kaczynski told The Associated Press in an interview before his departure that his meetings in the United States would focus on military and political issues such as hopes for further NATO expansion and Poland 's wish that neighboring Ukraine join the alliance by 2008.

"The main issue of the talks will be related to our political-military alliance, NATO, the enlargement of NATO," Kaczynski, 56, said in the interview Tuesday. " Poland is very deeply interested in Ukraine joining NATO. We would very much like that to happen in 2008."

Kaczynski also indicated that Poland , a major U.S. ally in Iraq , might consider extending its mission past the end of 2006, although he stressed that would demand a formal decision. He said he "could not imagine" staying beyond 2007.

Poland has 1,500 troops patrolling in central Iraq , but the number is expected to be whittled down to 900.

Kaczynski also said he would use the visit to tell U.S. leaders that Poland hopes to intensify trade and economic cooperation between the two countries. He said his country has much to offer in several areas, including heavy industry, food and metals.

"We are No. 60 for the U.S. in terms of economic exchange, but this seems to be too low," he said. " Poland is not 60th in the world but much higher."

As his predecessor did, Kaczynski is expected to press Bush on easing the expensive and cumbersome requirements for Poles to obtain visas to visit the United States . He wants Poles to be put in the same status as other nations in Western Europe , such as Britain and France , whose citizens normally do not need visas to enter the United States , reports the AP.

D.M.