Lech Walesa snubs Obama

One dissonant note in the president's otherwise smooth European tour: 

Walesa said in televised remarks that President Bronislaw Komorowski and the U.S. ambassador to Poland had called him hoping to persuade him to meet Obama. Walesa insisted, however, that he had no interest in a meeting that would amount to little more than a photo-op.

"This time a meeting does not suit me," the 67-year-old former president said in comments on news station TVN24. His office said he planned instead to attend a biblical festival in Italy.

Walesa refused to divulge more, but it seemed possible he was offended at not being offered a one-on-one meeting with Obama early on. Walesa had been invited to meet with Obama along with other former leaders of the anti-communist movement and current party leaders.

In past visits to Poland, U.S. presidents often scheduled private meetings with him and Walesa is accustomed to having visiting leaders travel to his home in the northern port city of Gdansk to see him.

Though Walesa's snub got significant media attention in Poland, some said it wasn't a surprise given his reputation for public complaining if he feels he hasn't been given enough respect.

Walesa's Rodney Dangerfield routine aside, the 1989 generation of Central European leaders has not always been overly fond of Obama. Walesa, along with several other former heads of state and prominent intellectuals, signed a public letter to Obama in  2009 urging him not to forget Central and Eastern Europe in the "reset" with Russia. Former Czech President Vaclav Havel has been openly critical of Obama on human rights issues, particularly his 2009 decision to postpone a meeting with the Dalai Lama. 



Conveniently timed illness

The interrogation of alleged Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic was suspended yesterday because of the suspect's poor health condition. Mladic has reportedly been in poor health for a while and was brought into custody with "bagful of medications," but it does seem awfully convenient that after years in hiding, his condition suddenly deteriorated when it was time to face questioning. (Mladic has since been deemed fit for extradition and the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal at The Hague insists it is more than capable of taking care of sick inmates, despite Slobodan Milosevic's death while in custody. ) Mladic is hardly the first major international suspect to suddenly take ill when it's time for trial. 

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who had tried to portray himself as being in robust health for years while he was president, suffered an unspecified "heart crisis" while under questioning in April. His wife, Suzanne, also developed a heart condition while being interroagted. The Mubaraks may be following in the footsteps of former Chilean strongman Augosto Pinochet, who was widely suspected by Chileans of exaggerating his illness to escape prosection.

Granted, arrest and interrogation are stressful experiences that can exacerbate existing medical conditions, but miraculous recoveries make it a little harder to believe. Convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi was released from a Scottish prison in August 2009 and sent home to Libya with the justification that he was suffering from prostate cancer and had only three months to live. He's still alive, though, and it now seems unclear that his doctors ever signed off on the diagnosis.