WARSAW, Poland – President Barack Obama announced Saturday that the United States has agreed to send F-16 fighter jets and C-130 cargo aircraft to train in Poland, a move Polish leadership welcomed as a sign of the U.S. commitment to defend Central and Eastern Europe.
In a quick first step, F-16s from the California Air National Guard will work alongside Polish F-16s this July in a training exercise as part of the preparations for the EURO 2012 soccer tournament.
Other F-16s and C-130s will be rotated to Poland starting in 2013. Despite Polish media reports before Obama’s visit, the agreement does not deploy any F-16s for long periods and does not transfer any from a key NATO base at Aviano, Italy.
Temporary or not, the dispatch of U.S. pilots to Poland sent a message of assurance to Polish leaders who are skittish about Obama’s work to improve relations with Poland’s old nemesis, Russia.
Obama earlier canceled plans originally devised by the administration of President George W. Bush to deploy a missile defense system based partly in Poland. The system ostensibly was meant to guard against rogue nations such as Iran, but Russia saw it as provocative.
Abruptly canceling that system pleased Russia, but upset Polish leaders who’d risked political backlash at home to support the idea.
Obama has promised to work jointly with Russia on a new missile defense system, but Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sounded pessimistic after meeting with Obama at a summit in France last week.
Obama came to Poland from that summit, noting that as a member of NATO, Poland is entitled to the same pledge of support as any NATO nation. “We defend each other,” Obama said.
In addition to the sending of F-16s and C-130s to Poland, Obama and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk discussed the new missile defense plan and said U.S. and Polish military will conduct talks on deploying land-based interceptors in Poland in 2018.
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