Poland calls for larger U.S. military presence in eastern Europe

WARSAW Sat Mar 22, 2014 8:15am EDT

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WARSAW (Reuters) - The U.S. should increase its military presence in Poland and in other NATO members in central and eastern Europe in light of the Ukraine crisis, Polish Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said on Saturday.

Siemoniak said Washington was open towards the idea but detailed talks were yet to begin.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Poland last Tuesday and confirmed plans to deploy elements of a U.S. missile shield in Poland by 2018 and met with the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and President Bronislaw Komorowski.

"The U.S. must increase its presence in (central and eastern) Europe, also in Poland," he said RMF FM radio.

"We will be talking about the details and I am happy that representatives of the U.S., the U.S. vice president are open towards these talks," he said.

During Biden's visit, Siemoniak said, "there was a clear expectation from our side, and also from all NATO allies (in) eastern Europe, that we expect a larger military presence of the U.S. and that this eastern flank of NATO must be strengthened."

Given the crisis in Ukraine, he said, it was "natural" to conclude further talks with the U.S. would also involve the possibility of locating a U.S. base in the region.

Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula have made some NATO members in former communist central and eastern Europe anxious about their own security, prompting Washington to reassure them that it will protect them if needed, in line with NATO security guarantees.

Responding to a request from Warsaw, the U.S. decided to increase the scale of its military exercises in Poland, sending to the country 12 U.S. F-16 fighter jets and 300 personnel earlier this month.

Before that decision, there was just a small detachment of several U.S. military personnel on the ground in Poland assisting in the training of Polish pilots.

Poland fell under Soviet domination after World War Two, along with the rest of Eastern Europe, but was one of the first to shake off Communist rule in 1989.

Poland shares borders both with Ukraine and Russia's Kaliningrad exclave and has been a member of NATO since 1999.

(Reporting by Marcin Goettig; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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