Polish president calls for beefed-up NATO presence

BRUSSELS:  Polish President Andrzej Duda called on NATO Monday to make its presence "as permanent as possible" in Poland to safeguard his country and region from an aggressive Russia.

"The point is that NATO troops are deployed and are visible," Duda said while visiting alliance headquarters in Brussels.

Poland is the host nation for NATO's next summit in July. Duda made clear his hope that that meeting will decide on a long-term stationing of NATO troops in his country.

Pressed by reporters to give details on what commitments he is seeking, Duda didn't cite numbers, but said the minimum size of the NATO force should be large enough to "ensure the security of the eastern flank" of the alliance.

"Today everything suggests that we need a significant presence of infrastructure and of troops there, on the ground, in Central and Eastern Europe. We need a good system of support for these forces and a system of defense in case of any act of aggression," Duda said.

NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg made no commitment, but indicated Poland will not be disappointed.

"NATO now has a persistent military presence in the region of which Poland is a part," Stoltenberg said. "And I trust that after the Warsaw summit we will see more NATO in Poland than ever before."

Some allies have been reluctant to commit to a significant and permanent NATO presence in Eastern and Central Europe because of a 1997 agreement with Russia.

But Duda said the Warsaw summit's main goal should be reinforcing the security of his and other former Soviet bloc countries now in NATO, as well as southern European countries threatened by a spillover of Islamic extremism from the Middle East and North Africa.

"We need such strengthening of security today," Duda said. "NATO must be adequately prepared for the rising challenges to security."