Polish leader to meet Trump days before election in unusual move

President Trump will welcome Polish President Andrzej Duda to the White House on Wednesday, the first visit of a foreign head of state since March during the coronavirus pandemic.

Duda’s visit to Washington is viewed as highly unusual given its proximity to the Polish presidential election. Duda, the country’s right-wing leader, is facing an unexpectedly tight reelection battle and will appear at the White House just four days before he competes for a second term.  

“There is an unwritten rule in U.S. diplomacy — you don’t invite people in the middle of electoral campaigns to Washington,” said Daniel Fried, former U.S. ambassador to Poland, who was deeply critical of the White House for the timing of the meeting. “You don’t want to be seen as putting your thumb on the scale.”

Molly Montgomery, a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution and former adviser to Vice President Pence on Europe, said she viewed the decision to hold the meeting “as very much an intentional effort by the White House to support a leader who Trump views as a personal ally.” 

The meeting follows Trump’s abrupt announcement to reduce the permanent U.S. troop presence in Germany from 34,500 to 25,000, prompting speculation that Trump could announce plans to send some of those forces to Poland.

White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Monday acknowledging that thousands of troops could be moved out of Germany to “other countries in Europe,” redeployed to the Indo-Pacific or return to bases in the United States. O’Brien said while Trump had announced the decision to withdraw some forces from Germany, details of the plan were still under development.

Trump and Duda are expected to discuss a range of subjects, including defense and energy cooperation between the two NATO member states, economic issues, trade and the coronavirus, during Wednesday’s meeting, which will be followed by a joint press conference.

Trump last hosted a foreign leader on March 12, when he met with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in the Oval Office a day after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic and Trump restricted travel from most of Europe in order to curb the spread of the virus in the United States. Trump’s European travel restrictions remain in place and include Poland.

The White House says it is taking health precautions in order to ensure the safety of both leaders and the delegations during the visit. A senior administration official told reporters Tuesday that members of the Polish and U.S. delegations would be tested for COVID-19 in advance of the meeting.

“The White House is continuing to implement very high health and safety procedures for all visitors,” the official said.

Trump has been eager to put the coronavirus pandemic in the rearview mirror and return to normal business, even as the COVID-19 deaths in the United States rise above 120,000. Various states have seen significant spikes in cases as they have moved ahead with reopening businesses.  

A second senior administration official said Tuesday that the White House did not have an announcement on future foreign visits but noted officials are “very much looking forward to hosting this visit and getting back to normal and moving forward.”

Observers see the meeting as one that is safe for Trump, offering him the chance to meet with a leader with whom he feels a personal bond without the risk of confrontation.

Trump and Duda have met twice in Poland and Trump hosted Duda at the White House for a visit last June that was marked with an elaborate flyover of F-35 fighter jets. Trump announced then that he would send 1,000 additional troops to Poland, though officials say they are still working out final details of legal agreements to boost the American troop presence there.

“This visit is safe for the president,” Montgomery said. “Duda is a strong ally and someone who he feels a personal kinship with and knows that there aren’t going to be any difficult issues raised.”

“This is also an opportunity for Trump to deflect criticism over his decision to remove some U.S. troops from Germany and portray it as being part of a larger plan” that will be in line with recommendations from those in the foreign policy establishment, Montgomery continued.

Trump has been widely criticized, including by Republicans, for plans to reduce the U.S. troop presence in Germany.  

“To ensure that free and open societies triumph over the likes of Vladimir Putin’s regime and the Chinese Communist Party, the United States must continue to build and maintain a united coalition of likeminded allies,” a group of Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote to Trump on Monday.

“The withdrawal of thousands of troops from Germany will only complicate this crucial effort and in turn place U.S. national security at risk,” they wrote, urging him to reconsider the decision.

Trump’s announcement that he would cut troops to Germany came amid rising tensions between Washington and Berlin over defense spending and other issues. Trump has criticized Germany for not meeting NATO’s goal of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense, labeling the country “delinquent.” Officials have, alternatively, praised Poland for meeting NATO’s spending goals.

Rebecca Kheel contributed. 

Tags Andrzej Duda coronavirus covid-19 Donald Trump German Mike Pence Pentagon Poland Vladimir Putin

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