- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2017

On his second international trip that begins late Wednesday, President Trump will be sticking up for Europe’s underdog nations.

Mr. Trump’s decision to visit Poland at the start of the trip gives him opportunities to promote U.S. business and to poke a symbolic finger in the eyes of Russia and Germany, traditional European powers and historic tormentors of Warsaw on its eastern and western flanks.

The White House also announced Tuesday that Mr. Trump will hold his first face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday afternoon at the Group of 20 summit in Germany.

The brief statement from the White House said the highly anticipated session between Mr. Trump and his Russian counterpart, after months of questions about Russian hacking in the U.S. presidential election, “will be a normal bilateral meeting” on the sidelines of the summit in Hamburg.

On Thursday, Mr. Trump will deliver a major foreign policy speech in Warsaw’s Krasinski Square, the center of a failed uprising in 1944 that cost the lives of about 200,000 Poles in their fight against Nazi German occupation. The president is expected to praise Polish courage and Poland’s status as a rising power in Europe.

He also is likely to applaud Poland’s strong support of NATO as one of only six members paying 2 percent or more of gross domestic product for defense against the perennial threat of Russian aggression. Polish President Andrzej Duda is trying to forge a regional defensive alliance against the Russian threat with the help of NATO.

In another challenge to Moscow, Mr. Trump will promote U.S. energy exports in support of central Europe’s efforts to reduce its reliance on Russian oil and gas.

“The top three things are energy, energy and energy,” said James Jay Carafano, vice president of the Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at The Heritage Foundation. “There’s a huge strategic alignment there. Trump is positioning himself as ‘America, the energy superpower.’ There’s an enormous interest and desire in Europe for energy independence and doing it the right way by building energy free markets.”

Mr. Trump will deliver his speech during a “Three Seas” summit of 12 central European nations that are seeking help with energy independence and rebuilding their infrastructure. Started by Poland and Croatia, the initiative consists of countries located between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black seas and is viewed as an effort to offset German and French clout in European Union affairs.

The central European nations are particularly concerned about the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will deliver natural gas from Russia to Germany for distribution to central and Western Europe.

The “Three Seas” countries — most of them former nations of the Soviet bloc — say the pipeline will divert revenue away from them and increase their dependence on Russian gas. They also don’t want Germany to control negotiations for the project.

White House advisers say the economic needs of central and Eastern Europeans dovetail nicely with Mr. Trump’s plans to promote U.S. energy exports such as liquefied natural gas. The first U.S. shipment to Poland arrived last month at a new LNG terminal.

“We want to create robust, open and fair markets that drive economic growth and leave no countries hostage to energy market manipulation,” White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters.

The leadership of Poland’s conservative ruling party views Mr. Trump’s plans as a diplomatic coup, before he visits more prominent U.S. allies such as Britain and France. The Law and Justice Party’s agenda includes a crackdown on dissenting media and a refusal to accept Syrian refugees based on quotas set by the European Union.

At the G-20 summit that begins Friday, Mr. Trump will meet with Mr. Putin in a one-on-one session in the afternoon on the sidelines of the summit, White House officials said. Expectations are high because of investigations in Washington into suspected collusion by Trump campaign aides with Russian hacking in the presidential election.

But Mr. Carafano said he doubts that Mr. Trump will confront Mr. Putin on that sore point in their first meeting.

“I think it’s very unlikely that Trump is going to go there and berate him on the election,” Mr. Carafano said. “What does that get you? The Russians know they hacked us, and they know we know they hacked us. So what exactly does going over that ground again do for the president?”

He added, “The administration’s made very clear that better relations with Russia are predicated on changes in Russian behavior that the Russians are actually very unlikely to do. I don’t think much substantive is going to happen, but it will be valuable in that it’s his first chance to really talk to him. The interesting thing will be to see how Putin plays it.”

Mr. Carafano said the main value of Mr. Trump’s first G-20 summit will be getting to know more heads of state, including Mr. Putin, on a personal level.

“It’s important for him to understand face to face who he’s dealing with,” he said.

The president has yet to visit France or England, but he has accepted an invitation from French President Emmanuel Macron to visit on July 13-14.

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