Warsaw, Washington agree on locations for new U.S. troops in Poland

WARSAW (Reuters) - Warsaw and Washington have agreed on six locations for new U.S. troops to be stationed in Poland, the country’s Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on Friday, a day after Donald Trump canceled a trip to the eastern European nation.

Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak speaks during U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's arrival in Warsaw, Poland, February 13, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

Trump called off his weekend trip due to a hurricane bearing down on Florida, with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence to take his place at events to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the start of World War Two.

“We have agreed on six locations, we talked about a seventh location,” Blaszczak said at a joint news conference with U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, who was in Warsaw ahead of Trump.

In June, Poland signed a deal to increase the American military presence on its soil to counter Russia’s growing assertiveness since its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Poland has a border in the northeast with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, where Moscow has deployed advanced nuclear-capable Iskander missiles.

The military deal signed in June will increase the number of non-permanent U.S. troops in Poland by 1,000. There are on average about 4,500 U.S. troops in Poland on rotation as part of NATO forces.

Aside from participating in the remembrance events, Trump had been due to discuss military cooperation, as well as energy issues during bilateral talks with Warsaw.

With six weeks left until a parliamentary election in Poland, the cancellation of Trump’s visit is a disappointment to Warsaw’s nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government, which is seen as one of Washington’s closest allies in Europe.

In Washington, a senior White House official said the two countries may sign an agreement aimed at securing 5G networks during Pence’s visit.

A goal of the agreement would be to protect networks from unauthorized access and interference from telecommunications suppliers controlled by “adversary nations,” the official said, without naming any companies or countries by name.

Bolton told the news conference with Blaszczak that Trump’s visit would be rescheduled as soon as possible.

“Poland has been an outstanding partner of the U.S. and NATO, spending more than 2% of GDP on defense,” he said.

An aide to President Andrzej Duda said after meeting with Bolton that “it is President Trump’s clear and unequivocal will to visit Warsaw this year, in the coming months”.

The aide, Krzysztof Szczerski, also said Poland had proposed three dates, within the next three months, for another visit by Trump, who said on Thursday he would schedule a trip in the near future. A date could be announced within a week, Szczerski said.

A visit by Trump could play in favor of the PiS government which faces accusations from its western Europe allies of breaching rule of law standards and is increasingly isolated within the European Union.

Opinion polls show it is likely to win the Oct. 13 ballot but the party’s ambition is to galvanize voters and disprove critics by winning in a order to win a majority that would allow it to change the constitution.

Writing by Justyna Pawlak; Additional reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Agnieszka Barteczko in Warsaw and Alexandra Alper and Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Frances Kerry