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Polish FM confirms document revealing US-Polish strain over Holocaust law

White House reportedly refusing to host Polish leaders and withholding funding for joint military projects

US President Donald Trump holds his thumb up as he stands in front of the Warsaw Uprising Monument on Krasinski Square during the Three Seas Initiative Summit in Warsaw, Poland, July 6, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)
US President Donald Trump holds his thumb up as he stands in front of the Warsaw Uprising Monument on Krasinski Square during the Three Seas Initiative Summit in Warsaw, Poland, July 6, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

WARSAW, Poland  — Poland’s foreign minister on Friday acknowledged the existence of an internal Foreign Ministry document that reveals tension in the US-Polish relationship but denied Polish media suggestions that Washington is imposing “sanctions.”

The strains have emerged over new Polish legislation that makes it a crime to falsely attributing the Holocaust crimes of Nazi Germany to Poland. The US fears it could violate free speech.

A Polish news portal, Onet.pl, this week reported seeing a document saying Warsaw was informed by the US administration that Polish leaders should not expect meetings with the US president or vice president until the matter is resolved.

Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz largely confirmed that Friday, though he characterized the US message as being “it would be good if meetings at the highest level could take place in an atmosphere when these issues are resolved.”

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz speaks during a joint press conference with his Romanian counterpart (unseen) at the Romanian Foreign Ministry headquarters in Bucharest on February 1, 2018. (AFP/Daniel Mihailescu)

He stressed that there was no mention of sanctions and denied the US position as meaning that diplomatic ties are somehow “frozen,” as some reports claimed. Czaputowicz’s characterization seems confirmed by a number of meetings that have taken place in recent weeks between US and Polish officials in both Washington and Warsaw.

“There is nothing in it that could raise concerns,” Czaputowicz said of the document.

He also said prosecutors are investigating the leak of the document, “which should not have been made available to journalists.”

Poland’s president last month signed the law, but also sent it to the Constitutional Tribunal for review. Many hope the court will find a way out of an impasse that caused what appears to be the worst rift in US-Polish ties in many years, and also created a dispute with Israel.

“The United States has concerns which I hope the Constitutional Tribunal will resolve,” Czaputowicz said.

Staff from the US Embassy in Warsaw had also threatened to suspend funding for joint military projects between the United States and Poland, according to Onet.

The report had initially been denied on Tuesday by Polish government officials.

The reported crisis in US-Polish relations is over the passing last month of a Polish law that criminalizes blaming Poland or the Polish nation for Nazi crimes during the Holocaust. Poland was occupied in 1939 by Nazi Germany, which built some of its most notorious death camps, including Auschwitz, on Polish soil.

It has also led to a crisis in relations between Israel and Poland. The two countries are holding ongoing talks over the issue.

Critics of the law include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called it “baseless.” Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, warned it is detrimental to debate and research of the genocide. And Israeli politicians, including the opposition lawmaker Yair Lapid, said it whitewashes what they called Polish complicity in the Holocaust – allegations many Poles find offensive and the Polish government rejects.

The US Embassy in Poland last month warned that it was “concerned about the repercussions” for bilateral relations after the Polish Senate passed the legislation.

Later that month, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki during an interview made a remark suggesting there were “Jewish perpetrators” of the Holocaust, along with Polish, Ukrainian and German ones.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki gives a speech during the Munich Security Conference on February 17, 2018 in Munich, southern Germany. (AFP/Thomas Kienzle)

Decried as a form of Holocaust denial or revisionism in Poland and abroad, his remark prompted an unusually harsh reaction from Netanyahu, who called Morawiecki’s assertion “outrageous.”

Jonny Daniels, the founder of the From the Depths commemoration group in Poland, called the reported ban by the White House “a very strong response.” He suggested that US-Polish relations would improve following the conclusion of ongoing talks between Israel and Poland on ending the crisis over the law.

“I am sure that with the talks and good will between the Polish and Israeli government to resolve this issue, business will return to normal soon,” he said.

The Holocaust complicity legislation, which is still awaiting judicial review in Poland, went into effect on last week Thursday.

Led by the Polish deputy foreign minister, a high-level delegation from Warsaw was in Israel last week to discuss possible amendments to the law.

As currently written, the law calls for prison terms of up to three years for attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish state or nation. The bill would also set fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish.

The infamous German inscription that reads ‘Work Makes Free’ at the main gate of the Auschwitz I extermination camp in Oswiecim, Poland, on November 15, 2014. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images via JTA)

One key paragraph of the law states, “Whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich… or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or whoever otherwise grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes – shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.”

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