Poland's Duda becomes first foreign leader to visit Trump during pandemic

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, with the two sides close to signing a joint defense cooperation agreement.

Duda’s visit appeared aimed at boosting his re-election campaign – Poland’s nationwide presidential vote is on Sunday.

The visit could lead to an agreement to send more U.S. troops to Poland, bolstering defense cooperation between the two NATO allies and acting as a further counterweight against Russian aggression.

As Duda arrived, he said it was an honor to discuss next steps in relations at the White House. Trump said the two would have a very important meeting on economic and military matters.

“I don’t think we’ve ever been closer to Poland than right now,” Trump said.

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, a senior administration official said.

“We are looking closely with our Polish counterparts on a Defense Cooperation Agreement to realize the vision put forward by both our presidents.¬†We are now focused on the final details for the legal agreements, which are similar to those that we’ve completed with other allies around the world,” the official said.

It was unclear whether Trump would want to move U.S. troops withdrawn from Germany to Poland, an option raised by U.S. officials. Trump wants to take thousands of U.S. troops out of Germany, feeling the United States is bearing too much of a financial burden for the deployment.

Trump and Duda have scheduled a joint news conference in the White House Rose Garden after their Oval Office talks.

Critics have accused Duda and Trump of calling the visit four days before the Polish election in order to improve Duda’s chances of winning, as his lead in opinion polls has dropped in recent weeks.

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.

Discussions would also focus on a potential partnership surrounding the construction of a nuclear-powered plant in Poland, the official said.

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