WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump said Wednesday he will send "some" of the 9,500 U.S. troops he plans to pull out of Germany to Poland, but made no new commitment to increase the numbers of those permanently based there.
In a Rose Garden news conference with visiting Polish President Andrzej Duda, Trump offered his first breakdown of what he intends to do with the withdrawn troops, totaling about one-third of current deployments in Germany. "Some will be going home, some will be going to other places in Europe. Poland will be one of those," he said without elaborating.
Duda, the first foreign leader to visit Trump since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, also received an electoral boost from Trump. "He's doing very well in Poland. . . . People think the world of him," Trump said of Duda. "He will do very well with or without us. He's going to have a great success."
Poles will vote on Sunday, and Duda is in an unexpectedly tight reelection race. His political party has openly speculated that his visit to Washington - where he has long been a Trump favorite - could put him over the top.
Among critics of the timing of the invitation, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright said in a statement that it was "being used as a partisan tool in both countries." She joined human and civil rights groups in charging that Duda's right-wing governing party "is attacking the rule of law, independent media and minority groups."
As the election has neared, Duda has tried to galvanize his base with attacks against the LGBTQ rights movement, branding gay and transgender rights as an "ideology" akin to communism.
In Warsaw, government backers praised Duda for what Jacek Karnowski, editor of the newsweekly Sieci, called "a historical moment." Duda's "mutually beneficial relationship with Trump," he said, has elevated Poland "to a higher international league."
Opponents noted the lack of new troop commitments and what they saw as Duda's kowtowing to Trump. "Actually, why did Mr. Duda go to Washington?" asked Paweł Zalewski, of the main opposition Civic Platform. "There is not even a declaration about increasing the U.S. contingent in Poland," he said, later adding that the gestures between the two presidents showed "the humiliating subordination of Polish to American."
On other issues, both leaders suggested that medical and research cooperation with the United States on the coronavirus would mean that Poland would have early access to any vaccine discovered.
Trump spoke of "taking care of the Polish people once we have a vaccine," which he predicted would happen "very soon." He has said he expects it to be available for Americans by the end of this year and that he will enlist the military to distribute it.
Duda, speaking through an interpreter, said he was "working on this obvious assumption that by taking part in the research, and also by being in a sense co-creators . . . Poles will be able to count on these vaccines and therapeutics being available as soon as possible."
Despite breathless coverage in some Polish media outlets in the days leading up to the meeting that cited specific military pledges, Duda left the meeting with no fresh commitments on troops levels.
When they met in 2018, Duda asked for a complete U.S. division to be stationed in Poland, suggesting that it could be called "Fort Trump" and offering to pay $2 billion for it. Subsequent meetings last year whittled that down to a 1,000 troop increase in a 4,500 strong armored brigade that already rotates in and out of Poland as part of NATO's strengthening of eastern European defenses against Russia.
Last year's deal also set out other enhancements for Poland, including plans for placement of a forward division headquarters in Poland, a joint-use combat training center and an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance squadron.
Duda has long been a favorite of Trump, who praised Poland again on Wednesday for increasing its defense spending - including the purchase of expensive U.S. weapons systems - beyond the 2 percent of GDP goal set by NATO nearly six years ago.
The planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from Germany, which Trump confirmed last week, is his latest salvo in an ongoing war of both rhetoric and substance against that government. At the news conference, he again criticized Germany for low defense spending, its refusal to cancel an energy pipeline from Russia, and what he has called unfair trade practices by the European Union.
"We defend Europe, but Europe also takes tremendous advantage of the United States. . . . We're trying to work that out," Trump said. "I'm imagining they would rather wait until after the (U.S.) election, so they can deal with someone else," he said, "but after the election, they will have to pay even more."
Despite Trump's suggestion Wednesday that some of the new facilities promised to Poland last year would include troops drawn from Germany, diplomatic and Defense Department officials have said no decisions have been made on which units will go where.
Poland has angered other NATO members in its pursuit of Trump, with some diplomats saying that going directly to the White House and promising money in exchange for U.S. troops undermines Europe's collective security. The fear is that it makes U.S. defense commitments transactional rather than based on principle or strategy, and channels American military resources to the highest bidder.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke to Duda by phone on Monday, a measure of the alliance's desire for Poland to tread carefully, two diplomats familiar with the discussion said.
At the White House, Duda was careful to say that while he would happily receive any troops that the White House decided to send his way, he had asked Trump not to "withdraw U.S. forces from Europe."
Trump's order to the Pentagon to begin drawing up plans to move troops out of Germany has run into stiff head winds from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Dozens of House Republicans have sent letters to Trump, warning that the move would endanger U.S. security and was announced without consultation with allies.
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Birnbaum reported from Brussels. The Washington Post's Dariusz Kalan in Warsaw contributed to this report.