May 22, 2019 / 11:43 AM / 3 months ago

Poland, U.S. near deal for more American troops, no sign of 'Fort Trump'

WASHINGTON/WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland and the United States are close to a deal on an increased U.S. military presence in the central European state, including more personnel and infrastructure, ahead of a visit by President Andrzej Duda to Washington in June, officials told Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump stands with Poland's President Andrzej Duda at the conclusion of a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., September 18, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

Disagreement remains, however, on who will pay for any new construction, as well as how long the American commitment will last.

Polish and U.S. officials hope the deal, which was first proposed by Warsaw in September, will be approved by Duda and U.S. President Donald Trump during the trip.

The agreement would strengthen transatlantic efforts to deter Russia, a priority the West believes has become more pressing since Moscow annexed Crimea from Poland’s eastern neighbour Ukraine in 2014.

After months of lower levels talks, officials say the agreement won’t resemble Duda’s initial request for a permanent base he dubbed “Fort Trump.”

“There is no Fort Trump,” a U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

Instead, two U.S. officials said Washington and Warsaw are closing in on a deal that would increase the number of non-permanent American troops in the country by between 1,000 and 1,500. There are on average about 4,500 U.S. troops in Poland on rotation as part of NATO force.

Instead of a new American base, the United States will either upgrade or build new facilities on existing Polish bases, U.S. and Polish officials said.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s one base, or many bases ... sometimes it’s even better from the perspective of deterrence and logistics for there to be many localisations,” a Polish official close to the discussions said.

The U.S. officials said there are discussions about building an air strip for American unarmed drones as well. The Polish official confirmed an air strip wasn’t being ruled out.

STILL TO AGREE

A four-page working document described to Reuters by one of the American officials initially contained language that said the United States would keep a presence in the country for “a few decades”.

After American resistance, the two sides are likely to stick with “enduring” American presence in the document, the official said.

“We don’t want to be boxed in,” the U.S. official said.

The U.S. and Polish officials are also debating who will pay for the cost of construction and sustaining the troops, with Polish officials reluctant to shoulder the majority of the personnel support costs for U.S. troops.

Duda in September offered to contribute over $2 billion.

Poland’s deputy defence minister was at the Pentagon earlier this month to work on the document, including the final size of the increased American presence and who would be paying for it.

“We have guarantees from the American side that the talks will lead to a reinforcement,” Poland’s ministry of defence said in a statement to Reuters.

Seeking U.S. support, even in the context of bilateral relations outside of the scope of NATO, is a key part of Poland’s strategy to deter Russia.

Poland’s armed forces, which the government has long vowed to modernize, have suffered from decades of under-investment and some two-thirds of their equipment dates from the Soviet era.

Reporting by Joanna Plucinska in WARSAW and Idrees Ali in WASHINGTON, Editing by William Maclean

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