WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Polish President Andrzej Duda on Wednesday became the first foreign leader to visit U.S. President Donald Trump since the coronavirus pandemic led to global lockdowns, and the two leaders said they looked forward to signing a defense cooperation agreement.
Duda’s visit appeared aimed at boosting his re-election campaign - Poland’s nationwide presidential vote is on Sunday. The nationalist Polish leader has emerged as one of Trump’s preferred foreign partners. The two have met one-on-one at least five times.
A defense agreement would send more U.S. troops to Poland, bolstering defense cooperation between the two NATO allies and acting as a further counterweight against Russian aggression.
“I think it sends a strong message to Russia,” Trump told a news conference with Duda in the White House Rose Garden, where he criticized other European countries for buying Russian energy.
The two leaders spoke after meeting in the Oval Office.
Duda said it was an honor to discuss next steps in relations at the White House. “Today we are entering another stage, namely there is a possibility of further increase in American troops in our country,” he said.
Trump said he might move U.S. troops from Germany to Poland. The Republican president wants to take thousands of U.S. forces out of Germany because he says the United States bears too much of a financial burden for the deployment and criticizes the government in Berlin for buying Russian energy.
“We’re going to be reducing our forces in Germany. Some will be coming home and some will be going to other places, but Poland would be one of those other places,” Trump said at the news conference.
“Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars to purchase energy from Russia. And through the pipeline. And I’m saying what’s that all about? You’re spending billions of dollars to Russia, then we’re supposed to defend you from Russia. So I think it’s... very bad,” Trump said.
Washington objects to the Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would double the amount of gas piped directly from Russia to Germany and reduce the amount piped in Ukraine.
Critics have accused Duda and Trump of calling the visit just before the Polish election in order to improve the right-leaning Duda’s chances of winning, as his lead in opinion polls has dropped in recent weeks.
Duda’s campaign has focused on rallying his conservative base with attacks on what he calls lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender “ideology,” while promising to protect popular social benefit programs for families and pensioners that have transformed life for many poorer Poles.
The U.S. Army already has an area support group in the region that can be tailored to increase the number of U.S. soldiers in Poland.
According to Polish media reports, the United States could offer 2,000 soldiers to Poland, 1,000 more than initially agreed in June 2019. Those additional troops would include the U.S. Army V Corps from Kentucky and F-16s from Germany.
Another official with knowledge of the talks told Reuters that moving the V Corps to Poland was under discussion and that Poland could get more than the 1,000 troops agreed to last year, but would not say if 2,000 would be sent.
Trump also told the news conference that the United States and Poland were discussing a project to construct a nuclear-powered plant in Poland.
Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington; Additional reporting by Joanna Plucinska in Warsaw; Writing by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Howard Goller and Grant McCool