US Vice President Mike Pence & Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Budapest on Monday, kicking off a multi-leg tour of Central Europe in a bid to cement US partnerships in the region against other major powers, including Russia and China.
Washington is preparing to offer Warsaw an increased US military presence in Poland in exchange for a Polish refusal to engage in closer cooperation with China and Iran, citing diplomatic sources.
“The situation is very dynamic. At the moment, the Americans are improving their offer qualitatively. Its essence is that no one in the world should have any doubts about America’s unconditional involvement in the defence of Poland,” one high-ranking diplomatic source told the newspaper.
The primary goal of Secretary Pompeo’s visit to Hungary, Poland and Slovakia this week will be to convince these countries to “resist” growing Chinese influence.
“It’s not only about abandoning contracts on the construction of a 5G internet network by Huawei, but also cooperation in the 16+1 format, through which Beijing is trying to strengthen its position in the region,” the paper noted.
Poland and China have been negotiating major infrastructure projects under Beijing’s One Belt One Road initiative, with China already Warsaw’s largest Asian trade partner and trade growing substantially over the last year. Chinese President Xi Jinping travelled to the Central European country in 2016, with Warsaw looking to attract substantial Chinese investment for infrastructure construction and modernisation projects.
Speaking in Hungary on Monday, Pompeo warned that the past US policy of disengagement in the region had driven “the Russians and the Chinese” to get “more influence here”.
US pressure is also expected to be brought to bear on Warsaw’s relations with Tehran. Poland has done its best to preserve relations with Iran following the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal last May, with the deputy chief of Poland’s foreign ministry flying to Tehran last month to prevent an open conflict. However, Poland’s decision to host a US-led anti-Iran conference in Warsaw later this week will be seen as an unfriendly move by Tehran, the paper added.
US Vice President Mike Pence is expected to make a declaration on strengthening security and energy ties with Poland on the sidelines of the Warsaw conference. “And while the final decision regarding an increased US troop presence in Poland will be announced by the Pentagon only in March, Admiral John Richardson’s recent declaration” that the US missile defence system deployed in Poland could also ‘deter Russia’ “is yet another signal that the Americans are preparing to fundamentally strengthen their military involvement on the Vistula.”
Last week, Richardson appeared to challenge the traditional US claim going back several administrations that its missile defence components in Poland and Romania were aimed at Iranian or North Korean missiles, telling the Atlantic Council that the anti-missile systems would help Washington “push back” against Russia, adding that the US should look to “push first”.
On Sunday, Poland approved the purchase of US rocket artillery systems as part of an ongoing military modernisation and expansion program. Last year, Polish authorities announced that they would lobby for the creation of a new US military base on Polish territory, informally dubbing the proposed base ‘Fort Trump’. Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the deployment of US missile bases in Eastern Europe would force Moscow to put these countries in the “crosshairs” of Russia’s strategic forces.