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Polish President Wants U.S. Military Base

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Poland's president was visiting the White House yesterday and made a request. He would like the United States to establish a permanent military base on Polish soil. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: It's not the first time that Poland's let it be known that it wants to host up to a full U.S. Army division permanently. But Polish President Andrzej Duda went a step further yesterday, telling a grinning President Trump he'd name such a base Fort Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT ANDRZEJ DUDA: And I hope that we will build Fort Trump in Poland together, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: That's right. You know what? It's very important to me, extremely important. They're very special people. It's a very special country. It's a very brave country.

WELNA: It's also a country where the U.S. temporarily stationed some 3,000 troops as part of an Army brigade combat team. It's part of the stepped-up presence of U.S. forces and equipment in Eastern Europe that followed Russia's annexation of Crimea four years ago. Poland is also hosting a U.S.-built air defense system near a Russian military enclave, which American defense officials claim is to shield against attacks from much more distant Iran. But perhaps, more than anything else, Duda's pitch for a permanent U.S. base appealed to Trump's affection for what he considers a good deal.

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TRUMP: The president offered us much more than $2 billion to do this, and so we're looking at it. We're looking at it from the standpoint of, No. 1, military protection for both countries and also cost.

WELNA: Some members of Congress are also pushing for a permanent base in Poland. This year's annual defense policy bill orders Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to report to Congress on both the feasibility and the advisability of permanently stationing U.S. forces in Poland. It also instructs Mattis to assess what actions Russia might take in response. Russia maintains that the 1997 treaty that allowed Poland to become part of NATO rules out the permanent stationing of foreign combat forces on its soil.

That's not how the Pentagon sees it, but some generals who know the region well warn that a permanent base would be seen by Moscow as a provocation. Duda had one other request - that Trump make Poles eligible for the visa waiver program. He seemed happy to oblige.

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TRUMP: We love the people of Poland coming to the United States, in any way, shape or form.

WELNA: That's the same Donald Trump who, two decades ago, paid nearly a million and a half dollars to settle a lawsuit brought by 200 undocumented Polish construction workers. They said he'd underpaid them.

David Welna, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALBORAN TRIO'S "DUENDE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.