CORRECTS DATE - Poland's President Andrzej Duda arrives for a working session during a summit of heads of state and government at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, July 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Poland: Trump's tough talk on NATO good for eastern flank

July 12, 2018 - 8:27 am

BRUSSELS (AP) — Poland's president says the debates over NATO spending that U.S. President Donald Trump ignited are paying off for countries like his on the alliance's eastern flank because they have led to more defense spending by allies.

President Andrzej Duda played down the severity of divisions between Trump and other NATO members at a two-day summit in Brussels, saying the important thing for Poland is that new commitments have been made to secure the region that lies close to Russia.

At the contentious two-day summit that wrapped up Thursday, Trump intensified accusations that other nations in the 29-member alliance were not paying their fair share on defense.

When asked during a news conference if he was still threatening to pull out of NATO and whether he can do so without Congress, Trump said: "I think I probably can but that's unnecessary." He said he was "extremely unhappy" with the situation, but that alliance members have upped their commitments to defense spending in response to his complaints.

The Polish leader expressed surprise that other leaders would leak details of the confidential talks. During brief remarks to reporters, he mostly praised Trump's approach.

And he insisted — despite an impression to the contrary — that the rancorous discussions "undoubtedly confirm the North Atlantic Alliance's unity — there is no question about it."

Poland, which was under Moscow-backed communist rule for decades during the Cold War, is today one of the most pro-U.S. countries in Europe. Poles remain grateful to U.S. President Ronald Reagan's role in defeating communism and see the United States as its only real power that could protect it from falling under Moscow's control again.

Since 2015, the country has also had a populist right-wing government that supports many of Trump's positions, including his opposition to migration.

But Warsaw has at times been nervous about Trump's fondness for Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump will meet Monday in Helsinki, Finland.

When asked if he was worried that the Putin-Trump meeting could have negative consequences for Poland, Duda said he expected Trump to continue the U.S. stance of supporting Poland.

"It would really be shocking if it turned out that he in any way would withdraw from the strategy of securing this part of the world. And it would be shocking if he made any concessions to Vladimir Putin, especially given what Russia is doing in Ukraine. It is an occupier, an aggressor," Duda said.

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