Romney wins backing of former Polish President Lech Walesa

GDANSK, Poland- In a visit meant as much for domestic consumption as international, Mitt Romney arrived in Poland on Monday to accept the endorsement of the country's former president, Lech Walesa.

Walesa, the co-founder of the Solidarity labor movement, had invited Romney to his country and lauded him through a translator.

"Poland and many other countries will certainly do their best for the United States to restore its leadership position," Walesa said through a translator. "And after our conversation, I'm quite confident that you will be successful in doing that."

PHOTOS: Romney's travels abroad

He added, banging his hand on a table for emphasis, "Gov. Romney, get your success -- be successful!"

Romney laughed and said, "Thank you so much. I appreciate your invitation and I'm glad to be here with you."

The unofficial Republican presidential nominee said that he admired the role that Walesa has played on the world stage, including his travels in Tunisia and other parts of the world "to describe the values of freedom which you champion here."

While in the area, Romney laid a wreath of roses at a memorial to honor veterans of World War II. He also visited a memorial commemorating the Solidarity movement, where he, wife Ann and their son Josh laid roses.

Political experts said Romney’s visit to Poland provided two opportunities--to highlight foreign policy differences with President Obama on missile defense and the United States’ relationship with Russia, and to court voters of Polish descent in swing states.

Relations between the United States and Poland have cooled, notably after Obama scrapped a George W. Bush plan to build a missile-defense system in Poland and replaced it with a different plan to be completed by 2020. Romney has assailed the move as trying to appease the Russians, though he has committed to the same timeline as long as certain conditions don’t change.

Walesa, whose movement rose during the Reagan era, does not have a warm relationship with Obama. When Obama visited Poland in 2011, Walesa declined to meet with him. And when Obama earlier this year awarded a posthumous presidential medal of freedom to a leader of the World War II-era Polish underground, the White House declined to allow Walesa to accept the medal on his behalf.

Polish leaders were additionally irked when, during the medal ceremony, Obama called Nazi concentrations camps in Poland “Polish death camps.”

The friction between the two nations is part of a broader concern among leaders in Eastern Europe that the United States is lukewarm to their concerns due to a desire to placate Russia. Romney’s visit to Poland and meetings with top officials has been an opportunity to suggest that he would place a greater emphasis on ties with nations such as Poland and take a harder line against Russia.

Romney’s visit also allows him to court American voters of Polish descent. In three states that offer a treasure trove of electoral votes -- Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio -- there are more than 220,000 voters of Polish descent, a group that could make a difference in a tight election.

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Maeve.reston@latimes.com

seema.mehta@latimes.com

Reston reported from Gdansk and Mehta from Los Angeles.

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