President Trump welcomed President Andrzej Duda of Poland to the White House on Wednesday, his first meeting with a foreign leader since February that was criticized ahead of time by Democrats as an unseemly effort to boost a European autocrat days before a close re-election vote.
Mr. Duda, who has served as Poland’s president since 2015, has presided over authoritarian restrictions on Polish civil society, including the judiciary and the news media, but he has also emerged as one of Mr. Trump’s preferred foreign partners. The Polish election is on Sunday.
The two leaders have met one on one at least five times, including twice before at the White House. Two years ago Mr. Duda hosted the president in Warsaw, where Mr. Trump delivered a speech calling for nationalist, anti-immigration policies worldwide. Mr. Duda has even offered to host a “Fort Trump” that would house U.S. troops in his country.
That particular idea has remained abstract, but the leaders are expected to discuss American troop levels in Poland, which could rise if Mr. Trump follows through on his stated plans to pull thousands of U.S. troops from neighboring Germany. Administration officials said the two leaders would also discuss energy security, including U.S. assistance for Poland’s civil nuclear program.
“I don’t think we’ve ever been closer to Poland than right now,” Mr. Trump said in brief remarks to reporters in the Oval Office alongside Mr. Duda. “I have a very good personal relationship with the president.”
Mr. Trump has not met in Washington with a top foreign official since February, when he hosted Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, whom the U.S. recognizes as the country’s rightful president. His last trip abroad was later that month when he went to India, where he met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Mr. Trump tried without success to resume meetings with his foreign counterparts by proposing to host the annual Group of 7 summit in the Washington area this month. But that idea was publicly rebuffed by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany because of the coronavirus.
A senior administration official said on Wednesday that all members of the Polish delegation would be tested for the coronavirus, but would not say whether they or their American counterparts would be wearing masks during their meetings. None appeared to be when Mr. Trump gave his brief remarks in the Oval Office.
Daniel Fried, a retired career diplomat who served as the U.S. ambassador to Poland in the Clinton administration, said that by hosting Mr. Duda, Mr. Trump was making a highly unusual and inappropriate political intervention on behalf of a foreign ally.
“There is a good rule in U.S. diplomacy where you don’t do that,” Mr. Fried said. “Trump doesn’t much care about those things, but the reason you don’t do it is because it injects the U.S. into the domestic politics of another country, and it alienates a whole bunch of people there’s no reason to alienate.”