Chargé d’Affaires a.i. B. Bix Aliu’s Interview with Rzeczpospolita

Bix Aliu, Chargé d’Affaires, a.i.: Biden Intends to Talk to Duda

11 March 2021

President Trump called Andrzej Duda in the second week after his election in 2016. Joe Biden has not called Warsaw even though it has been four months since the election. What is the rationale behind such a delay? 

We’re only in the second month since the inauguration.  Although it’s still early, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Secretary of Defense Austin, and Secretary of State Blinken have already spoken with their Polish counterparts.

President Biden has taken a great interest in Poland throughout his career.  He was a co-author of the Support for East European Democracy (SEED) Act, which was designed to help countries such as Poland transition to democracy and a free market economy.  He played a key role in the admission of Poland to NATO. President Biden’s current priorities include responding to the global pandemic and promoting economic recovery.  Our bilateral relationship is based on shared values and shared interests.  I’m sure that President Biden is looking forward to talking directly with President Duda.

There has been remarkable consistency in U.S. policy regarding Poland over the decades since Poland freed itself from Communist rule. That is going to continue. 

During his call to minister Rau on February 23, Secretary Blinken made a reference to “democratic values, including media freedom and respect for civil rights” as a basis for the Polish-U.S. cooperation. What would be the reaction of the U.S. if through taxation, state take-over, or other means, the independence of the media in Poland would be further limited or civil movement leaders like Marta Lempart were imprisoned? 

I don’t want to speculate about what might happen and how we might react to hypothetical scenarios. We have repeatedly affirmed that a strong and healthy democracy in Poland is a foundational component of U.S.-Polish relations.

Promoting, advocating, and defending freedom of speech, the right to peaceful protest, and judicial independence are essential to every democracy.  As President Biden said, the United States is not perfect – far from it, but we strive towards our highest ideals and lead by the power of our example.

Right now Poland has a vibrant and free media and a vibrant civil society, which should be preserved.  Free media is something the United States will always stand up for. 

The lack of revenues from the publishing of content by American Internet platforms like Google and Facebook weakens the financial standing and independence of Polish media outlets. To what extent would taxing those companies resolve this problem? 

Media companies – and other businesses – face a number of challenges related both to the constant evolution of technology and the economic downturn related to the pandemic, but I don’t see a connection between their financial status and how the companies that you mentioned are taxed.

The United States recognizes that it is Poland’s right to tax businesses.   Doing so without adequate consultation with the business community, however, risks unintended consequences.

We encourage Poland to keep its commitment to pursue a comprehensive multinational agreement through the OECD/G20 process to update the global tax rules and to resolve digital taxation disputes in that context. 

Germany and the US are engaged in negotiations on a compromise concerning the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Poland is opposed to the completion of this project on any conditions. Why are the Polish and US view on Nord Stream 2 are now diverging? 

Our views are not diverging.  Both the United States and Poland know that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal for Europe. It is a clear example of Russia’s aggressive actions in the region and provides the means to use a critical natural resource for political pressure and malign influence against Europe.

If you look at the report that the Department of State submitted to Congress on February 19, you will see a list of entities that have engaged in good-faith efforts to wind down activities related to the Nord Stream 2 project during the relevant time period. That list of over 15 entities demonstrates that our actions are effective.

The broader point is that ensuring the energy security of European nations is crucial to achieving our shared goals of preserving free markets, upholding democratic values, and creating an even brighter future for generations to come.

The development of Poland’s civil nuclear program is vital to the country’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions and guarantee its energy security. As a clean, safe, and reliable source of energy, nuclear energy facilitates the resilience of electric grids, and provides access to uninterrupted, affordable power.

President Biden announced during the virtual Munich Security Conference the suspension of the withdrawal of US troops from Germany. Part of those forces was supposed to end up in Poland. To what extent will the reinforcement of the US military presence in Poland agreed to during the Trump administration be reviewed? 

It is not true that troops withdrawn from Germany were supposed to go to Poland.  That was never our policy.  President Biden tasked Secretary of Defense Austin to lead a Global Posture Review of U.S. forces so that our military footprint is appropriately aligned with our foreign policy and national security priorities.  It will be coordinated across all elements of our national security, with Secretary Austin and Secretary Blinken working in close cooperation.

President Biden said the movement of U.S. forces from Germany would stop until the review is completed.

U.S. officials will consult often with allies and partners around the world as they perform the review.  The review should be finished by mid-year.  Commitments, like the rotational forces in Poland, will continue even as the review goes on. The Polish government welcomed President Biden’s decision to halt U.S. troop reduction in Germany and supports maintenance of troop levels there.  Minister Blaszczak tweeted on February 7 that it was “good news for the security of the entire Europe.”

Implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which will allow for an increased U.S. military presence in Poland, continues.  Plans to increase the U.S. presence in Poland as enabled by the EDCA were separate and not contingent on the proposed troop withdrawals from Germany.

Let me also remind you that after Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea, then Vice President Biden was a proponent of sending rotations of U.S. armed forces to Poland.  President Biden understands that Poland is still an important Ally on the Eastern flank of NATO.  That has not changed. 

The Three Seas Initiative was supposed to be an important vehicle of the US engagement in Central Europe and Poland. Still, behind the declaration there is a lack of concrete investments and projects. To what extent does the new administration intend to fill this gap? 

We strongly support the Three Seas Initiative, which will catalyze greater economic growth, reinforce Europe’s energy security through the diversification of supplies, strengthen Europe’s economic resilience, and deepen the region’s economic integration with wider Europe while advancing the goal of interconnectivity in infrastructure, energy and digitalization.

Last year marked an important milestone in the initiative’s evolution, including the launch of a fully operational Three Seas Initiative Investment Fund.  To date, nine of the twelve Three Seas countries have invested in the Fund, showing a strong commitment to the Initiative and transboundary economic development in the region.

We look forward to working with the Bulgarian government in support of the 2021 summit. 

President Biden announced that the confrontation with the authoritarian Chinese regime would be one the defining features of his presidency. How does the U.S. expect Poland to join this initiative? 

The difference between the United States and the People’s Republic of China could not be clearer. We have rule of law; we have freedom of the press. Everyone gets due process. When we have peaceful protesters, we create the space for them to say their mind, to speak their piece.  Contrast that with what happens in an authoritarian regime like the PRC.

The PRC has also trapped countries in unsustainable debt in exchange for subpar infrastructure projects.

Poland is joining the growing list of nations that are on high alert to the central threat of our times – the Chinese Communist Party.

The U.S. is not trying to get partners to break off ties with China – we’re trying to get China to play by the rules. 

Are any visits of U.S. officials to Poland planned in the coming months and when will the new Ambassador come to Warsaw? 

Like everyone else, due to COVID19 we are limiting travel to only the most important trips right now.  We are hopeful that vaccination programs will bring the pandemic under control and let us return to more normal practices, including travel.

Regarding when the next ambassador will arrive, I honestly do not know.

What can you tell me about the Summit for Democracy?  Will Poland be invited? 

Elevating the promotion and defense of democracy and human rights is a foreign and domestic policy priority for the Biden Administration.  Societies that respect and defend human rights, fundamental freedoms, gender equality, democratic institutions, and the rule of law are more stable and secure. They are better equipped to confront global challenges like climate change.

President Biden pledged to host a Summit for Democracy early in his administration to bolster democracy worldwide by confronting authoritarianism, fighting corruption, and promoting respect for human rights both at home and abroad.

It is not just governments who have a role to play in elevating democracy.  Our civil society partners are on the frontlines and their input and experience will be critical to a successful Summit.  The private sector can also play a role in preserving democracy, including online.

Planning for the Summit is in the preliminary development phase, and I am not directly involved.  I can say that I expect that the Summit will include both well-established and emerging democracies, and Poland is certainly a democracy.