Kamala Harris meeting with Poland’s President after US rejects Polish proposal to get jets to Ukraine

Harris’ meeting with the hard-right nationalist may make for an awkward diplomatic moment, given that the US has rejected Poland’s offer to supply the jets – which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been asking for.

The pair sat across from each other along a long table during a photo-op, but did not make remarks.

Before they sat down for talks, Harris greeted Duda at the entrance to the Belvedere Palace. Under a blue sunny sky, they shook hands and spoke through face masks before walking indoors.

They are expected to hold a joint press conference within the next hour.

Harris met first with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki at the chancellery building, laying out her primary focus for the visit: reaffirming American commitment to eastern flank NATO allies.

“I wish it were under other circumstances,” she said of her visit.

The fighter jet issue did not arise directly in Harris’s first public appearance, though she has said she was ready to discuss security and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.

She also said she was working to reinforce US commitment to ensure Russia faces a “serious and severe consequence” for its invasion of Ukraine.

And she thanked the Polish Prime Minister and his country for welcoming Ukrainian refugees with “courage and generosity.”

Harris expected to help soothe relations

Why the US rejected Poland & # 39 ;s plan to send fighter jets to Ukraine

Poland’s offer to deliver the jets to Ukraine was designed to avoid the appearance of Poland directly arming Ukraine.

However, the proposal created a conundrum for the US, which is also intent on avoiding direct conflict with Russia. The offer had also not been discussed with the US before Poland announced it publicly.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday described the situation as a “temporary breakdown in communication.” She said the jets issue will not be the focus of Harris’ meeting with Duda, but the vice president is expected to help patch things up.

“Obviously the vice president is on her way there, not related to this particular issue which will be worked through military channels, but it was more about the mechanism for how it would be delivered and that is the issue that is operational and we’re still discussing, “Psaki said.

Psaki also said there are “clearly logistical challenges” with the proposal from Poland, including getting planes into Ukraine in a way that is not escalatory, potentially having to disassemble and reassemble planes, and ensuring the aircrafts’ safe movement amid a war.

However, the Pentagon on Wednesday flat out rejected the idea, with spokesman John Kirby saying in a briefing that the US does not support the transfer of combat aircraft to Ukraine, either by Poland transferring them to Ukraine with the US backfilling Poland’s fleet or by Poland transferring the MiG-29s to the US to then give them to Ukraine.

The US intelligence community believes transferring the planes to Ukraine now could be seen by Russian President Vladimir Putin as an “escalatory step,” Kirby said.

“The intelligence community has assessed that the transfer of MiG-29’s to Ukraine may be mistaken as escalatory and could result in significant Russian reaction that might increase the prospects of a military escalation with NATO,” Kirby said.

The Defense Department said in lieu of facilitating the transfer of MiG-29 fighter jets from Poland to Ukraine, the US is in discussion with “many countries” about providing additional air defense systems to Ukraine.

The Biden administration has kept the controversial Polish President close during the Ukraine conflict, deploying thousands of additional troops to bases in Poland.

Poland, Ukraine’s neighbor to the west, has also received more than 1.2 million refugees since February 24, according to the United Nations.

A show of western unity

Ukrainian hospital bombing increases heat on US and allies to do more to stop Russia

Harris ‘trip is part of the US’ larger diplomatic push to reinforce the West’s unity against Russian aggression in Ukraine. The vice president is also playing a role in reassuring NATO’s eastern European member countries amid concerns that Russia may have its sights set on them next.

Officials have said Harris plans to use the trip to focus mainly on “next steps” in eastern Europe’s handling of the ongoing conflict, including future plans related to sanctions, refugees and military assistance to Ukraine.

The humanitarian crisis unfolding in Europe was evident right outside her door.

Just across the street from her hotel in Warsaw is the central bus station where refugees fleeing violence in Ukraine have been arriving by the thousands since last week.

Inside, volunteers in yellow vests are directing the new arrivals to counters helping with accommodation, translation and onward journeys. Long lines wrap around tables offering hot coffee and sandwiches. Boxes of donated clothes are positioned in corners and piles of diapers and baby products are available for the taking.

The new arrivals appeared dazed and somewhat disoriented, albeit relieved to have arrived in Poland. None said they knew the American vice president was also in Warsaw, staying in the hotel next door.

One woman, who declined to provide her name, had just arrived with a small family and their husky mix. She said she did not know Harris was visiting Warsaw; after all, she’d just completed a long journey out of Ukraine.

If she had a message for the United States, it was simply: “please help Ukraine.”

Harris is scheduled to hold a roundtable with refugees later Thursday after meeting with Duda. She will also meet with Ukrainian refugees and American diplomats who relocated to Poland from the US Embassy in Kyiv, which closed amid the conflict.

She’ll also meet Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is visiting at the same time, and will speak to US and Polish troops on Friday.

The vice president will also travel to Romania to meet with the country’s president and staff at the US embassy. And like Poland, Romania is a NATO member where the US has deployed troops amid heightened tensions with Russia.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

CNN’s Ellie Kaufman, Michael Conte, Veronica Stracqualursi and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.

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