WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush is asking Congress to set up a $400 million fund to reward nations that have taken political and economic risks to join U.S.-led coalitions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The White House announced the fund, dubbed the “solidarity initiative,” after Bush’s meeting yesterday with Aleksander Kwasniewski, the president of Poland, a nation that is to receive one-fourth of the money.

The $400 million request is part of the $80 billion supplemental war funding request Bush will send to Congress next week.

“Poland has been a fantastic ally because the president and the people of Poland love freedom,” Bush said during his Oval Office meeting with Kwasniewski, a staunch ally in the Iraq war.

“I know the people of your country must have been thrilled when the millions of people went to the polls” in Iraq.

Poland has taken command of a multinational security force in central Iraq that currently includes about 6,000 troops — among them more than 2,400 Polish soldiers. Kwasniewski told reporters outside the White House that a reduction this month will leave Poland with 1,700 troops in Iraq, but he said the 700 other troops would remain ready in Poland to be immediately deployed to Iraq if needed.

Administration officials declined to say which other nations would benefit from the fund, partly designed to reward allies and coax them to stay in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. Spain, Singapore, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Thailand, Philippines, Norway and Honduras have left the coalition.

One administration official said the fund was designed to provide help to Eastern European nations, such as Ukraine, Hungary, Romania and the Baltic states. Bush is meeting March 9 at the White House with Traian Basescu, the president of Romania, which has an estimated 700 troops in Iraq.

“These funds … reflect the principle that an investment in a partner in freedom today will help ensure that America will stand united with stronger partners in the future,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said in a statement. “This assistance will support nations that have developed troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other partners promoting freedom around the world.”

Kwasniewski declined to answer a question about whether the Polish people felt they had been adequately rewarded for their help in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

“If Iraq finally will be an independent, democratic state, that’s the highest reward we can expect,” Kwasniewski told reporters outside the White House.




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