Scaled-down missile defense system comes after ramped-up lobbying effort
Lobbyists for the nation of Poland marked a win today as the country expressed relief at a scaled down US-sponsored missile shield, as the Associated Press reported, a turning point in negotiations between the countries in which Poland relied not just on diplomats, but on K Street lobbyists paid hundreds of thousands of dollars , too. The Obama administration last month agreed to dramatically scale down an Eastern European defense system that offended Russia and put a wary Poland on edge. The Bush plan would have used Poland as a potential launching point for missiles intercepting projectiles from Iran, but some viewed its ulterior target at Russia.
Talks between the US and Poland on a missile defense system took on an unexpected urgency when Russian tanks rolled in to Georgia in a territorial dispute last year. Polish lobbyists met 70 times with the Administration and 38 times with House of Representatives and Senate staff between June and November to negotiate an arrangement under which the United States would install a missile defense system in Poland, ostensibly to deter threats from Iran, according to Department of Justice records analyzed by the Sunlight Foundation and ProPublica and available at ForeignLobbying.org. Such diplomacy can be a zero-sum game, however: Russia claimed the system was aimed at it and declared that installation “could not go unpunished,” meaning that striking a deal with one Eastern European country would deal a blow to relations with its larger neighbor. In May, funding for the system was stripped by House Democrats who did not view Iran as an imminent threat.
The negotiations played out against the backdrop of the US presidential campaign; while then-candidate Barack Obama criticized the defense system, the Polish foreign minister met with his opponent, Sen. John McCain, in September. Making as many as eight contacts in a day that month, Polish lobbyists communicated with key committees and members in the House and Senate and with then-deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO policy Dan Fata, who left government to work for international lobby shop the Cohen Group (and has since publicly advocated for the missile base), and Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried, a former ambassador to Poland.
With the reevaluation of the Eastern European defense systemwhich may be based off ships rather than mainland basesPoland can consider its $203,000 in lobbying fees a successful investment. Vice President Joe Biden travelled to Poland with a contingent of other former Soviet bloc countries, many of whose relationships with Russia remain icy.
Poland’s lobbyists were also active during the same time period addressing a House resolution calling on its government to make “immediate and just restitution of, or compensation for, property illegally confiscated during the last century by Nazi and Communist regimes.”