Bonn warms to Poland's new President

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The Independent Online

Central Europe Correspondent

Poland's new President, Aleksander Kwasniewski, yesterday tried to shake off his Communist past by saying he planned to lead his country towards Nato and the European Union.

Speaking in Berlin on the second day of his first official trip abroad, he said early membership of the two bodies remained key foreign-policy goals - as they had under his anti-Communist predecessor, Lech Walesa. Mr Kwasniewski, who flew on to deliver the same message in Paris, said the choice of Germany and France as his first official ports of call was intended as a "symbolic statement". He spoke of the Paris-Berlin-Warsaw axis as the "backbone of Europe".

His message was well received by his German hosts, who, in addition to seeking better relations with Poland, have always been the most ardent supporters of the expansion of Nato and the EU into Central and Eastern Europe.

At a dinner for Mr Kwasniewski on Tuesday, President Roman Herzog of Germany said Poland could depend on Germany's continuing support in its bid to "return to Europe". Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who last year said an EU membership treaty for Poland could be ready by 2000, offered similar assurances during earlier talks.

Despite his Italian suits, suave manner and clear intelligence, Mr Kwasniewski, 41, is one of many East European leaders with links to the region's former Communist regimes. His past played a key role in last year's bitter presidential election; Mr Walesa, the man he narrowly defeated, said former Communists, like leopards, cannot change their spots.

In the three-and-a-half weeks he has been President, Mr Kwasniewski has had to confront embarrassing allegations that Jozef Oleksy, the Prime Minister and a fellow former Communist, had for many years co-operated with an agent from the KGB. Mr Oleksy has come under increasing pressure to resign pending a full investigation.

Few Western diplomats believe Mr Kwasniewski has any desire to see a restoration the old regime. As a spokesman in the German Chancellery put it: "We have had no sign that Mr Kwasniewski wants to look east rather than west ... Joining [the EU and Nato] is very much in his own country's interest.''