Mid-East conference helped peace process, raised Poland’s profile and strengthened Polish-US ties, says prime minister
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has stressed the importance of the recent Middle East summit in Warsaw, and added that the issue of property restitution for US citizens of Jewish descent has already been dealt with. Speaking in an interview for PAP, he also defended Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, following his alleged Holocaust comments.
PAP: Thursday saw the close of the Warsaw summit on security and peace in the Middle East. Why did Poland decide to co-host it?
Mateusz Morawiecki: The situation in the Middle East has consequences not just for that region but for the whole world, especially the European Union. The increasing threat of terrorism and Islamic radicalism, the successive waves of refugees and migrants - this is a direct result of the situation in Syria, Iraq or Yemen. If we do not resolve this problem, things will only get worse. Of course, one can debate the technical details, but one thing is certain: we must act. And Poland intends to do so because, for us, combating the migration crisis does not mean opening our borders wide, but seeking solutions at the source of the problem.
Q: Was such a solution found during the summit? What will be the effects of the Warsaw conference?
A: This summit was a breakthrough, if only because we managed to invite very many countries to Warsaw - including those which usually not only do not speak to each other, but are sharply hostile towards each other. The best example was Israel and the many Arab countries, which met for the first time in years at such a high level. The fact alone that countries which do not even officially acknowledge each other's existence, not only sat down at one table but began talking and exchanging arguments can be counted as a huge success. A success which, I hope, will lead to more civilised international relations in this part of the world.
Today we know that the conference was not just a single event, but the beginning of something bigger. This is good news, both for the Middle East and the European Union. Because the Warsaw conference will lead to seven working groups, which will continue the talks at a more detailed level. Thanks to this conference, Warsaw has gained a permanent place on the map of the Middle-Eastern peace process, like Oslo and Madrid before it. Some capitals are already speaking about the "Warsaw process" as a way to open up new possibilities to strengthening peaceful relations worldwide.
After the Warsaw NATO summit, the global climate summit in Katowice and the recent Middle East summit, also held in Poland, one can say Poland is at the centre of international events and processes that are shaping a new world order based on cooperation and understanding.
Q: What do you think about US Vice-President Mike Pence's address at the conference, where, among other things he said that "the greatest threat to peace and security of the Middle East is the Islamic Republic of Iran," and that "beyond its hateful rhetoric, the Iranian regime openly advocates another Holocaust and seeks the means to achieve it?" Shouldn't Poland fear a decline in its relations with Iran in the context of this speech?
A: We share many US concerns expressed at the Warsaw meeting. However, this does not stand in contradiction to the fact that, besides seeking the guilty among the countries of the Middle-Eastern region, Poland is ready to actively prepare peaceful solutions and participate in establishing dialogue. We want effective but peaceful diplomacy, one that is primarily future-oriented. The summit started a certain process which will certainly be continued.
Our country does not oppose Iran. We would also like Teheran to take an active part in the Middle-Eastern peace process.
Q: On the sidelines of the conference's second day you met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. What did you speak about?
A: We mainly discussed our bilateral relations. For quite some time now we have been cooperating not only on the political, but on the economic level. Our special focus is on innovative industry, modern technology and cooperation between young leaders of science and enterprise. Several months ago, we launched a cooperation programme between the Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego and Israel's Start-Up Nation, which will promote cooperation between Polish and Israeli innovators and enterprise. We also cooperate in cyber-security. Israel has vast experience in this field, we have excellent specialists, and we plan to use these ties to better protect Poland from attacks of this kind. This cooperation is of benefit to us because it strengthens our potential and our economy.
Q: There was also some controversy around the statement by the Israeli prime minister. Some Israeli media quoted his alleged words that "the Poles collaborated with the Nazis."
A: That's right, this information appeared on Thursday evening and we immediately launched steps to clarify the situation. On my personal request, Israel's ambassador in Poland, Anna Azari, was summoned to the foreign ministry and explained that the reports about the statement were totally untrue. In reality, Prime Minister Netanyahu only spoke about single cases of collaboration. What is more, he also confirmed that he fully upheld the joint declaration Poland and Israel adopted in June last year. This is a very important document, which underscores our true narrative about the history of World War II. In this declaration Prime Minister Netanyahu and I stated clearly that there is no consent to ascribing responsibility for Nazi crimes to Poland or the Polish people.
We are keeping our heads in this matter, and we are making use of the tools provided by diplomacy. Here, it is worthwhile to proceed cautiously and consistently negate lies about us. We will give a very considered response to all such statements. This matter is of fundamental importance to us, we cannot permit people to make such insinuations and unfair accusations.
Q: Another such lie were the words of MSNBC reporter Andrea Mitchell, who in one of her reports from Warsaw, said that Jews in the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising fought against "the Polish and Nazi regime." What would you tell her?
A: Such statements are the best proof that we must continue fighting for the historical truth. These words are an insult not only to us Poles, but also to Jews and all other victims of German crimes. The Warsaw Ghetto insurgents knew well who they were fighting against - and it wasn't any "Polish regime", but the cruel Germans.
Paradoxically, this situation brought Poland more gains than losses, because while the initial words were mainly noticed in our country, the correction, which emphasised that Poland was not the perpetrator of crimes committed by the German Nazis, found its way to major media worldwide. This statement was also condemned by the US ambassador to Poland, Jewish organisations and American ones. And this triggered a very big response around the world.
I cannot reveal very much from the diplomatic kitchen, but I can say that, also, here our reaction was instantaneous and carried out on various levels. Effective moves by Polish diplomats, who also turned to Jewish circles for support, put the journalist under very heavy pressure, and very quickly forced her into an apology for her words and to clearly state in writing what the truth was. This was the tangible effect of our diplomatic efforts. Only two or three years ago it would have been very difficult - if at all possible - to have a situation in which a well-known US journalist retracts from her words so quickly and so decisively.
Q: On Wednesday at a press conference with the Polish foreign minister, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that "we also appreciate the importance of resolving outstanding issues of the past, and I urge my Polish colleagues to move forward with comprehensive private property restitution." What is your opinion about these words? Is this really an unresolved issue which needs changes on the Polish side?
A: We are handling this matter with the utmost consistence and clarity, and taking into account the whole historical context. We have explained that the expectations of Polish compensation for German crimes are based on a fundamental misconception. Poland was a victim of both Germany and the Soviet Union. The Germans destroyed our country, they wanted to annihilate almost the entire Polish nation, and enslave the rest. It is we who are entitled to demand compensation.
Moreover, the restitution of property to US citizens of Jewish descent has been fully regulated - we signed an indemnity agreement with the Americans in this matter years ago, and it frees our country from this responsibility. I want to state this clearly - this issue is non-existent at the moment, and Poland is quite safe in this respect. Poland was a victim, not a henchman, and, most importantly, Germany never compensated Poland for the losses caused by the criminal policies of the Third Reich.
Q: On Thursday you also spoke with Vice-President Pence. Did you speak about this?
A: Yes, we constantly voice our stand in the matter in talks with our partners. According to initial estimates today, Poland's losses as a result of Germany's aggression come to USD 650-700 billion. Added to this must be the nearly total destruction of Warsaw and hundreds of Polish cities and towns. And these are only the material losses. How do you convert into money the lives of millions of our citizens who were murdered or severely injured, or forced to become slave labourers for the German war machine? How do you convert the territorial losses in the East?
I showed Vice-President Pence photographs of the war ruins in Warsaw, I told him about Witold Pilecki. And I could see that he was moved. I also told him that the Germans never paid Poland for their crimes. Instead of compensation, we got membership of the communist bloc. In this war we lost that what is most important - people, territory, property, independence and our future.
Q: But history wasn't all you spoke about?
A: Most of all we spoke about the future, especially military, political and economic cooperation. We have much to do especially in this last field. For the past three decades our relations with the US were generally good, but this never translated into adequate levels of economic cooperation.
Today we are catching up on what we neglected in the past. We are investing in energy cooperation, we plan to expand the Lech Kaczyński Gas Terminal in Świnoujście. We also want to build a second one on the Baltic Sea. Thanks to dynamic economic growth in recent years we are able to finance such strategic projects ourselves, but we have invited our American and other partners to participate, also in order to further reinforce economic ties between our countries. We are also counting on a marked rise in investment in new technology and innovative enterprise.
This cooperation also has a military dimension. We are very pleased to see that the Americans want to raise their presence in our region and in our country. This is a long-term investment in Poland's security. Still, recently, Poland had 200 to 300 rotationally stationed US troops. Today, thanks to our efforts, there are already 4,500 and this number will probably increase. We are also investing in modern military equipment, missile defence - in short, in the tools without which a modern army is unthinkable today. Thanks to our consistent efforts over the past years, our government has chances for real guarantees and to considerably strengthen cooperation within NATO and with the US.