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Poland should increase military ties with USA: presidential adviser

By Pawel Sobczak and Lidia Kelly

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland should increase its military cooperation with the United States, a senior adviser to the Polish president said.

Krzysztof Szczerski, President Andrzej Duda's top foreign policy adviser, was speaking days before the new U.S. administration that has signaled a friendlier approach to Russia takes power in Washington.

Szczerski also suggested that Poland would welcome the re-election of Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany, Poland's largest trade partner with whom relations have soured since Polish conservatives came to power a year ago.

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U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's friendly rhetoric towards Russia puts Poland, which has frosty ties with Moscow and fears President Vladimir Putin's influence over the region, in an awkward diplomatic position.

The country has just received the largest U.S. military reinforcement in Europe in decades under a planned NATO operation to strengthen its Eastern European allies in face of what the pact sees as a growing Russian aggression.

"First of all, we want to maintain and possibly deepen the current level of the (Poland-USA) military cooperation," Szczerski, who is also the chancellor of state in Duda's administration, told Reuters.

Moscow, which unnerved Eastern Europe by annexing Ukraine's Crimea in 2014, sees the NATO reinforcement in the region as a security threat. In retaliation, it has deployed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in its European exclave of Kaliningrad.

Although it is unlikely that 28-member NATO would change its deterrence policy any time soon, Szczerski said Warsaw wants a "political conversation" between Duda and Trump as soon as possible.

"Our task is to insist that the U.S. presence in Europe, including in Poland...lies in the interest of the United States and Poland, as well as of the alliance," he said.

MERKEL VISIT

The conservative Law and Justice (PiS) ruling party, fearing Germany's pre-eminence in Europe, has allowed relations with Berlin to deteriorate while shifting its foreign policy focus onto Britain.

Merkel is to visit Poland next month at the invitation of the Polish government in what diplomats are saying could be an attempt by Warsaw to repair ties, now that Britain is leaving the EU. Duda and his administration are PiS's allies.

"From the point of view of Polish-German relations and the future of this part of Europe in general, the stability of Germany politics is a value," Szczerski said, asked whether Poland would root for Merkel in the German elections this year.

"On the turbulent map of Europe such a stability is needed."

(Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Angus MacSwan)