Polish president and PM visit White House to mark 25 years of Poland in NATO

Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, and prime minister, Donald Tusk, have jointly visited the White House for a meeting with Joe Biden to mark the 25th anniversary of Polish accession to NATO.

The leaders’ talks focused on security, and in particular on the need to provide continued support to Ukraine. The US also announced that it was offering Poland a $2 billion loan and the possibility of purchasing helicopters and missiles.

“There is no better place to celebrate this special anniversary,” said Duda in Washington. “Courageous decisions were made right here by both Democrats and Republicans. NATO expanded to the east, Poland joined the free world, the West, where it has always belonged.”

Both he and Tusk thanked Biden for the prominent role he played as a senator in the 1990s in pushing through US ratification of NATO membership for Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Biden, meanwhile, hailed Poland’s contribution to the alliance, noting that it is now spending almost 4% of GDP on defence, which is the highest relative level in NATO. He also thanked Poland for the support it has shown Ukraine, including continuing to house around 1 million refugees.

Joe Biden has hailed NATO’s unity in the face of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine during a speech in Warsaw, noting that Poles „know better than anyone what solidarity means”.

He also thanked Poland for the support it has shown to Ukrainian refugees https://t.co/0cCj0857oP

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) February 21, 2023

“Today, there can be no safe Europe without a strong Poland and I would also say there can be no just Europe without a free and independent Ukraine,” Tusk told Biden.

Speaking later to the press, Tusk added that he hoped “a voice from Poland, a voice from Europe” can encourage a change of heart among Republicans in Congress who have been preventing the passage of a bill providing $60 billion of US support for Ukraine.

“The lack of a positive decision will cost thousands of lives – women and children – in Ukraine,” warned the Polish prime minister.

Trwa spotkanie polskiej delegacji z Prezydentem Stanów Zjednoczonych @JoeBiden 🇵🇱 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/Gqqaw8nGKF

— Kancelaria Premiera (@PremierRP) March 12, 2024

Ahead of the talks at the White House, Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, told reporters that the US would approve a $2 billion direct foreign aid loan for Poland and would offer to sell Warsaw 96 Apache helicopters. Duda and Tusk later confirmed the news.

The US State Department also announced today that it had approved the proposed sale to Poland of air-to-surface standoff missiles and related logistics and support for $1.77 billion.

Those deals would add to an unprecedented defence spending spree by Poland since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has seen it conclude tens of billions of dollars worth of deals, mainly with the US and South Korea.

Both Duda and Tusk noted after the meeting that they had also discussed US involvement in developing Poland’s first nuclear power plants.

.@StateDept 🇺🇸 authorizes a Foreign Military Sales #FMS case to 🇵🇱 #Poland for Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles with Extended Range (JASSM-ER) for an estimated cost of $1.77 billion. #FMSUpdate–https://t.co/3YCeV1gK3q pic.twitter.com/YpsgJoPNBl

— Political-Military Affairs, US Dept of State (@StateDeptPM) March 12, 2024

Ahead of his departure for the US, Duda published a call in the Washington Post for NATO members’ defence spending target to be raised from the current 2% of GDP to 3% in response to Russia’s increased military outlay amid the war in Ukraine.

However, that was met with a lukewarm response from the US. Asked to comment on Duda’s proposal, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said that it would first be better to ensure that all countries in the alliance meet the 2% threshold, which many are below.

Speaking in Washington to US-owned Polish broadcaster TVN, Tusk said that he had “warned the president that there would not be an enthusiastic response to this proposal” and that he thinks Poland should instead focus on “persuading our partners to respect the 2% of GDP [target for] defence spending”.

The prime minister added, however, that he hoped Duda’s call would help “mobilise NATO countries” and may “embarrass those who do not reach the 2% threshold”.

According to @NATO’s estimates, Poland spent the equivalent of 3.9% of GDP on defence last year, the highest level in the alliance.

Most member states failed to reach the 2% guideline. pic.twitter.com/Ctf7fSC57k

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) March 11, 2024

In domestic politics, Duda and Tusk are in two opposing camps, with the president aligned with the former ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, now in opposition. He has repeatedly clashed with the new government, which he accuses of violating democratic and legal norms.

However, the joint visit to the White House offered a chance to show a united front on Poland’s security, where the president and prime minister are in alignment.

“I differ politically from President Andrzej Duda on almost everything,” tweeted Tusk on Monday. “But when it comes to the security of our homeland, we must and will act together, not only during the visit to the US.”

Z prezydentem Andrzejem Dudą różnię się politycznie niemal we wszystkim, ale w sprawie bezpieczeństwa naszej Ojczyzny musimy i będziemy działać razem. Nie tylko w czasie wizyty w USA.

— Donald Tusk (@donaldtusk) March 11, 2024

In a televised speech to the nation later on Monday, Duda emphasised that “Poland’s membership in NATO is a symbol of our national unity”, enjoying support from the political left, centre and right. “I want Poland to send a clear signal that we speak with one voice on these matters,” he added.

Both Tusk and Duda also stressed that Polish-US relations have prospered regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans hold power in Washington. Duda formed a close relationship with Donald Trump, while Biden then approved a long-awaited permanent US military base in Poland.

However, when Trump was in the White House, Poland’s government was led by the like-minded right-wing populist PiS, helping smooth relations. Should he return to power, it is likely that relations with Tusk’s administration will be less friendly.

Trump’s apparent reluctance to back Ukraine would also clash with the positions of both Poland’s main parties as well as Duda, all of whom have urged the international community to support Kyiv and take a tough stance on Russia.

Trump’s latest remarks “weaken” NATO, says Poland’s defence minister

But ex-PM @MorawieckiM, now in opposition, says that „instead of criticising the US, Polish leaders should mobilise Germany and other NATO members to fulfil their [spending] obligations” https://t.co/2IeYwALQCt

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) February 11, 2024

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Main image credit: Jakub Szymczuk/KPRP

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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