Trump Says U.S. Will Relocate Some Troops to Poland From Germany
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said some U.S. troops in Germany would be restationed to Poland, repeating criticism of Berlin’s defense spending and praising Polish President Andrzej Duda, who faces an election on Sunday.
“We’ll probably be moving them from Germany to Poland,” Trump said Wednesday during a Rose Garden news conference with Duda. Trump was referring to a portion of the troops he has previously announced would be withdrawn from Germany.
Trump’s remarks came shortly after Duda signaled his disapproval of the U.S. plan to reduce its troop presence in Europe, which the Polish president sees as vital to guard against what he called “Russia’s strong imperial tendencies in our part of the world.”
“I would not have the courage to tell the U.S. president where to send his soldiers, but I do not deny that I turned to President Trump asking that he would not withdraw troops from Europe,” Duda said. “I am ready for Poland to accept more American soldiers.”
Trump said Poland would pay for the U.S. troops, but neither leader said how many would be relocated or how much Poland would contribute toward their cost.
The Polish president traveled to Washington just days before he seeks re-election aiming to secure a fresh commitment from Trump to deploy additional U.S. military forces in his Eastern European nation. Consummating a defense pact may help Duda reverse a narrative that he’s struggled in his quest to get thousands of American troops stationed near the border with Russia.
Trump, who has long seen the nationalist Polish leader as a kindred spirit, wants to signal a return to normalcy even as the coronavirus continues to ravage swaths of America.
The U.S. president has seen his political support erode as the outbreak claimed more than 121,000 American lives and collapsed the economy. He’s recently filled his schedule with travel and high-profile events in an effort to move past the pandemic.
The discussion between the presidents was to include health security, 5G technology, and the “Three Seas Initiative” intended to integrate Eastern European energy, transportation, and technology infrastructure, according to three U.S. officials who requested anonymity to discuss the meeting beforehand. The three seas are the Baltic, the Black and the Adriatic, including countries not in the European Union.
In the Oval Office with Duda on Wednesday, Trump said the two were set to have a “very important meeting” on “military and other things.”
Polish and U.S. officials also plan to work on the final elements of a defense cooperation agreement that would see the U.S. Air Force rotating an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Squadron into Poland and establish an aerial port for troops and equipment.
The two countries are also finalizing details of deploying a U.S. Armored Brigade Combat Team, including an agreement on where the troops would be stationed and whether additional infrastructure is needed to support U.S. troops in the country, according to one of the officials.
Expectations were high in Poland, the biggest NATO member in Eastern Europe, that Trump may announce a sweeping defense deal. The agreement is set to include the relocation of an additional 1,000 soldiers, according to Georgette Mosbacher, the U.S. ambassador to Poland.
The U.S. will relocate 30 F-16 fighter jets from Germany to Poland, newspaper Dziennik Gazeta Prawna reported on Monday, without saying where it got the information. Poland may also sign a deal to purchase military helicopters, it added. U.S. officials declined to comment on the reports, saying it was premature to discuss specific troop reallocations.
But Trump and Duda did not announce any new progress toward basing an armored brigade in Poland, a deal to relocate F-16s or a broad defense cooperation agreement.
Trump this month announced that he’d cut the number of American troops in Germany -- Poland’s neighbor -- raising concerns over the longevity of the American military commitment to Europe and further straining transatlantic relations. Trump said he’s withdrawing troops because Germany doesn’t meet NATO guidelines on military spending and supports a gas pipeline project with Russia.
A defense-pact announcement could have proved a boon to Duda in an election that’s been delayed over a month because of the pandemic.
Duda saw his popularity jump in April as the face of the government’s coronavirus relief efforts. He still leads opinion polls, but his support has declined as more citizens are hit by the economic crisis. Most surveys show the incumbent falling short of an outright majority in the first round on Sunday and neck-and-neck with his leading rival, Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, in a run-off slated for July 12.
Trzaskowski asked Duda if he intends to gain nuclear weapons from the U.S. and whether the meeting just days before an ballot gives Poland a strong negotiating position. “I hope that President Duda isn’t going to Washington solely for the purpose of the political campaign, whether his own or President Trump’s,” the mayor wrote.
Trump too has experienced a decline in public support as unemployment has soared and criticism of his handling of protests over police brutality have intensified. He has fallen behind his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, in both national polls and surveys of key battleground states.
The president has looked to reverse that trend by pitching Americans on an expedited return to normalcy, even as coronavirus infections have begun to accelerate in some U.S. states that led the way on reopening.
On Saturday, Trump held his first campaign rally in three months, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and on Tuesday he spoke to a youth group at a megachurch in Phoenix following a trip to the Mexican border for a briefing on his signature wall.
Members of both the U.S. and Polish delegations will be tested for the coronavirus infection before the meeting, according to one of the U.S. officials.
“The visit comes at a critical time for both the United States and Poland, as we reopen our countries after months of battling the coronavirus pandemic,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said.
The trip may also refocus attention on the president’s history of sidestepping human rights concerns, with Democrats and some LGBT rights groups denouncing the visit over Duda’s use of anti-gay rhetoric.
“President Duda and his party promote horrifying homophobic and anti-LGBTQ stereotypes and policies that run counter to the human rights and values that America should strive to uphold,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, said in a statement last week.
He was referring to Poland’s nationalist Law & Justice Party, which has repeatedly clashed with the European Union over issues ranging from its rejection of EU quotas on housing refugees to a sweeping court overhaul.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.