Kirk visits with Polish president, receives Commander's Cross

The world's leaders have largely left Chicago following the conclusion of the NATO summit, yet one extended his stay to see a friend who fell ill just days after a previous visit.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski paid a visit Tuesday to U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk at Kirk's downtown Chicago office, awarding him the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland - an honor bestowed upon foreigners or Polish citizens residing abroad in recognition of distinguished contributions to the Polish nation, primarily in the area of international diplomacy.

Kirk, a Highland Park Republican and former 10th District congressman, is recovering from a serious stroke he suffered in January, shortly after he returned from a visit to Poland with Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Chicago. This was the first time that Kirk held a meeting in his office since the Jan. 21 stroke.

According to Kirk's staff, the senator, Quigley, Komorowski and several Polish officials discussed U.S.-Polish relations, including Senate legislation that would provide a path for Poland's participation in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. The measure passed Tuesday in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The provision mirrors legislation introduced in the House by Quigley and Dan Lipinski, a Democrat from Western Springs, which is still in committee. The Senate legislation now goes before the full chamber for consideration.

The United States launched its visa waiver program 26 years ago to allow tourists and business travelers to visit without a visa as long as their homeland met specific security and law-enforcement standards.

Kirk noted in a statement that the U.S. should "stand by its commitment to this strong democratic ally." Poland, a member of the European Union and NATO, also participates in the "Schengen Area," made up of 25 European nations that allow passport-free travel across borders.

Kirk said he is "deeply honored" by being awarded the Commander's Cross, and looks forward to furthering his work in the Senate to "strengthen the burgeoning relationship between our two nations."

In recent weeks, Kirk has been steadily increasing his workload and public profile.

He meets regularly with staff and has been working behind the scenes on Iran sanctions, one of his hallmark issues. Kirk's office earlier this month released a video showing the senator detailing his participation in an outpatient program to improve his walking ability at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, as well as a letter in which Kirk described his stroke in detail as "something profound happening inside my skull."

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