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Poland, US closing in on deal to build ‘Fort Trump,’ sources say

President Donald Trump speaks as Andrzej Duda, Poland's president, looks on during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Sept. 18, 2018.

ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG

By JENNIFER JACOBS, JUSTIN SINK, NICK WADHAMS AND MAREK STRZELECKI | Bloomberg | Published: April 16, 2019

Poland is nearing a deal with the U.S. to establish an American military base in the former Soviet Bloc country, according to people familiar with the matter — an outpost the Poles see as a deterrent to Russian aggression and that the Kremlin likely would consider a provocation.

If a deal is reached, President Donald Trump is considering traveling to Poland in the fall, in part to commemorate the agreement. But it’s unclear whether he fully supports the idea, even after he said during a September meeting with Polish President Andrzsej Duda that the U.S. was looking “very seriously” at establishing a base. Duda, who joked that it could be named “Fort Trump,” remains committed to contributing $2 billion for its construction.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki planned to visit Washington this week to discuss the proposal with Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, but his trip was postponed, according to two people familiar with the matter. He’s traveling to Chicago and New York instead.

Trump often has criticized NATO allies for not spending enough toward their own defense, and he’s considered demanding that countries hosting U.S. forces pay the full cost of the bases, plus as much as a 50 percent premium for the privilege, according to people familiar with the matter. But the American president has an affinity for Poland, a NATO member whose government has clashed repeatedly with European Union leaders in Brussels over rule-of-law issues. Duda has employed Trump-style anti-migrant and nationalist rhetoric.

Trump stopped in Warsaw in July 2017 to deliver a speech before attending a Group of 20 summit in Hamburg.

The U.S. now rotates about 4,000 troops into and out of Poland. Rather than immediately begin constructing a base, that arrangement could be bolstered, according to a person familiar with the White House’s thinking. Polish and U.S. officials now don’t want an eventual base to be named “Fort Trump,” according to a person familiar with the discussions.

All of the people asked not to be identified because the issue concerns national security.

The plan is now being considered in what’s known as an interagency process led by the Defense Department with input from Bolton, the people said.

“The United States and Poland are engaged in ongoing discussions on the status of forces, and we have nothing to announce at this time,” Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said in an email.

A spokesman for Duda said that talks are progressing but declined to comment further. One person familiar with the matter described the outstanding issues as largely technical matters, such as how many more U.S. troops would be sent to Poland, where, precisely, they’d be located and what equipment they’d bring with them.

Polish leaders have been eager to increase the U.S. presence in their country and have asked American officials for the permanent stationing of a a full Army brigade. Like many eastern European states, the Poles grew more wary of Russian territorial aspirations after the Kremlin annexed Crimea from neighboring Ukraine in 2014.

After the Crimea episode, the U.S. and allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization established a constant, but fluctuating, rotation of troops in Poland. The Poles have argued for a permanent, costlier plan, including a headquarters.

Polish officials raised the subject when Vice President Mike Pence visited the country in February, according to a person familiar with the talks.

The idea of permanently stationing U.S. troops in Poland could prompt opposition from European allies chagrined by the country’s turn toward autocracy, including a revamping of the judiciary that critics say would subordinate courts to politicians.

And some U.S. critics have said the permanent stationing of American forces in Poland would be a disincentive for additional defense spending by NATO members. Poland says it already meets the NATO goal of spending 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense.

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