By Steve Holland
CHICAGO (Reuters) – Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Wednesday sought to allay the concerns of Polish-Americans who questioned him about his commitment to Poland given his tough stance on NATO and talk of working with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump, at a small roundtable meeting with Polish-American leaders, heard their concerns about his demand that NATO nations bear more of the financial burden of their defense and his words of praise for Putin.
“As president I will honor Poland’s sacrifices for freedom. We’re committed to a strong Poland, very committed, totally committed, and a strong Eastern Europe as a bulwark for freedom and security,” Trump said.
Trump has rattled NATO allies and many U.S. national security experts by saying that if elected on Nov. 8, he would demand that NATO members pay up their defense contributions of 2 percent of GDP or else have to pay for their own security.
Many nations in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have lagged in their defense spending, to the frustration of U.S. leaders, but there has never been a move to cut them out of the U.S. security umbrella because of this.
In Chicago, Trump hailed Poland as being up to date with its defense contributions.
“We want NATO to be strong which means we want more nations to follow the example of Poland,” Trump said. “If all made the same contributions as Poland, all our allies would be more secure.”
There are an estimated 9.5 million Americans of Polish descent in the United States, many of them clustered in Midwestern states that may play an important role in deciding who wins the election.
Tim Kuzma, president of a group called the Polish Falcons of America, told Reuters that during the small roundtable event Trump was asked about whether he would be a strong friend to Poland.
The message to Trump was “Would a Trump administration support Poland?” Kuzma said. “Would a Trump administration honor the commitments to NATO? And he was very affirmative that he would and that he believes in a strong NATO.”
(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Frances Kerry)