Monday, October 04, 2004

"a technical error"

Poland's defence minister claimed on Monday that Polish troops would pull out of Iraq by the end of 2005. Hours later, other Polish government members called the claim untrue:

Poland's defence minister sparked confusion Monday by announcing that the country would pull its troops out of Iraq by the end of next year, only to be contradicted hours later by other top government figures.

Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski in newspaper and radio interviews said that Poland, one of the staunchest US allies in Iraq, would withdraw its 2,500 troops from the country by the end of December 2005.

"The final date (of our military presence in Iraq) should be that of the expiry of the UN Security Council resolution," the minister said, referring to UN resolution 1546 endorsing the timetable for political transition in Iraq, which expires in December 2005.

But as the issue provoked a spiralling row, he later clarified his comments in an interview with Polish public radio and daily Gazeta Wyborcza, saying they reflected his "personal view."

Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz immediately distanced the government from the defence minister's statement, which was certain to provoke a furious response in Washington.

"I would like the situation in Iraq to evolve to allow us to say that our mission in Iraq is over," he told reporters.

"But this is not the case. We have to grit our teeth and be consistent. Poland, which in the past has so often been betrayed by its allies, would not like to betray for the first time its ally," the foreign minister added.

Cimoszewicz denied there were divisions within the government, describing the defence minister's announcement as "a technical error."


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