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Trump Bucks Trend, Will Visit Poland Before Germany, France Or U.K.


President Trump heads to Warsaw tomorrow. He visits Poland before visiting Germany, France or the U.K., according to the schedule as it's currently known. Why Poland first? Well, it is a NATO ally, as the White House points out. And NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson offers another possible reason.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: President Trump is assured a warm welcome by a sympathetic government in Warsaw, even if Poland is something of a pariah in the European Union at the moment. Like the U.S. administration, the Polish government, which is headed by the populist Law and Justice Party, insists national interests trump global ones. Krzysztof Szczerski is a top official in the Polish president's office. He recently spoke to Radio Poland about the Trump visit.


KRZYSZTOF SZCZERSKI: America first will meet Poland first. And I think that will be a very fruitful meeting.

NELSON: It won't be as glitzy as the one a couple of months ago in Saudi Arabia. But the American president can count on the support of Polish leaders and those of 11 other countries belonging to the Three Seas Initiative, which moved up its Warsaw summit to coincide with his visit. The initiative seeks to improve trade and energy links between its members, all of them potential buyers of American oil and gas. But it's not just Trump who benefits. His visit is a major coup for the Law and Justice Party, which leads opinion polls there, but only by a slim margin.

The populists' two-year tenure has been marred by fierce protests at home and threats of EU sanctions over their attempts to rein in the Polish courts and media. Polish leaders have also been at odds with Brussels over the EU presidency of Donald Tusk. He used to be Poland's prime minister from a rival mainstream party. And the current populist government there tried but failed to get him ousted.


NELSON: Law and Justice MP Malgorzata Gosiewska criticized the EU for giving Tusk a second term. She says it shows the EU is not in touch with reality when it elects a Polish man who polls don't want to lead it. But Law and Justice Party troubles don't seem to faze its voters. Critics charge they are bought off with subsidies the country can ill afford, including one that pays Polish families that have more than one child. Voter Martin Fietkiewicz is a Gdansk businessman whose family receives $260 a month under that program. But he says money isn't the reason he supports the populists.

MARTIN FIETKIEWICZ: (Speaking Polish).

NELSON: Fietkiewicz says the Law and Justice government fights corruption. He adds the populists aren't perfect, but he considers him more reliable than the previous governments.


JAROSLAW KACZYNSKI: (Speaking Polish).

NELSON: At a party convention last weekend, Law and Justice Chair Jaroslaw Kaczynski lauded government leaders for keeping faith with Polish voters. He also accused Western European countries of being envious that Trump is coming to Poland first. So what do he and other Poles hope to hear from the American president when he's there? Szczerski described it to Radio Poland.


SZCZERSKI: The one important message saying that the partnership between the U.S. and Poland is a real one. It's not just a theoretical one or not just build up on emotions.

NELSON: Szczerski said there is also money at stake. He said he hopes Trump's visit will result in more U.S. investment in Poland. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News.


Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson
Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.