US secretary of state Chuck Hagel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, Friday morning: photo - PAP/Jakub Kamiński
Asked at a joint press conference in Warsaw on Thursday evening given by the US secretary of defence and Poland’s defence minister Tomasz Siemoniak, whether the continued allegations of a CIA black site in Poland were detrimental to the Polish-US alliance, Chuck Hagel said that, “as you all know the United States government does not respond to any questions regarding those kinds of issues [but] I think the depth and the width of the relationship between Poland and the United States is such that it can withstand any testing or questioning that may jeopardize that relationship”.
Chuck Hagel’s two-day visit to Poland comes after the Washington Post reported last week that CIA operatives handed over 15 million dollars in cash to Polish intelligence officers when setting up the alleged ‘black site’ in north east Poland, where terrorist suspects were held and tortured in 2002 and 2003.
Hagel thanked Poland for support in Iraq and Afghanistan and looked forward to a "new era of defence cooperation".
"The United States is firmly committed to deploying a US missile defense system in Poland. We look forward to this system coming online in 2018 as part of phase III of the European Phase Adaptive Approach," Chuck Hagel said.
Hagel referred to his visit to the Powidz Air Base on Friday, where a small unit of American troops are stationed alongside F-16s, as "a groundbreaking joint aviation detachment is located. Where our American and Polish airmen are training and working side by side every day."
Chuck Hagel with Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Friday: photo -PAP/Jakub Kamiński
The missiles, troops and F-16s send "a message that the United States remained committed -- remains committed to the European and Polish defense," Hagel added.
When questioned by journalists on the increasing importance of Asia and Pacific region to US defence policy since Barack Obama took over the US presidency, Hagel said that the "rebalancing for the United States to Asia-Pacific does not mean retreating from the rest of the world, and especially not retreating from the continent of Europe. Rather, we intend to enhance our relationship in NATO, and with our transatlantic partners."
Polish defence minister Tomasz Siemoniak noted that the defence secretary’s visit to comes at the beginning of a year when Poland celebrates the 25th anniversary of Poland regaining its independence after the fall of communism and the 10th anniversary of Poland's membership in NATO.
Minister Siemoniak said that the strong relationship between Poland and the United States was demonstrated by the solidarity that is “manifested in the strong North Atlantic Treaty Organization and a strong United States and Europe.
"Europe must do more for its own security. It is doing so, because events in Europe and close to the European borders in North Africa and in Syria make it necessary to take seriously the threats and the necessity to strengthen NATO,” the Polish defence minister said.
"Poland is ready to take up real and very specific actions in this area by means of the modernization of the Polish armed forces by great financial effort that is taken by its citizens and organizing the regional security policy,” Siemoniak said.
On Friday morning Chuck Hagel laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw before leaving the capital for the Powidz Air Base in western Poland.
The trip will also include a short visit to the village of Kiszkow, near Poznan, where the US secretary of state’s great grandmother was from.
“I understand it's a small village. I told [Minister Siemoniak] today that I hope my great-grandparents didn't leave the village owing a lot of people money,” Secretary Hagel joked. (pg)