Tuesday, 27 June, 2017

US to press NATO allies on counter-terror, defense budgets

Saul Franklin | 09 April, 2017, 03:12

The meeting of NATO's 28 foreign ministers - hastily rescheduled after Tillerson initially announced he would skip it in favor of a meeting with China's leader - came amid fears of US commitment to the alliance following Trump's calls to increase spending.

In a news conference Friday after the Brussels meetings, Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance's secretary-general, sought to paper over the differences.

The Trump administration's top diplomat, however, reiterated on Friday Trump's call for members to increase their financial contributions to the organization.

Tillerson's comments may have been intended for his boss back home, who appears to believe that other countries not spending domestically on defense is the equivalent of owing a debt to the United States.

Tillerson continued to reassure the foreign ministers on Friday that the US would uphold agreements and ensure each member has the ability to defend itself.

Besides the US, just four members have met the goal: the U.K., Poland, Greece and Estonia.

Pressure to meet that strict deadline is likely to upset some allies.

The effort came after resistance from German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who said that the push from Washington was unrealistic and based on a mistaken interpretation of the spending targets, which are not binding.

The allies' agreement to boost spending is a loose set of guidelines, but is not binding, Gabriel argued.

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Other spending such as development aid, he said, should be taken into account.

"Allies that do not have a concrete plan to spend two percent of GDP on defense by 2024 need to establish one now".

That is on top of $3.7 billion that was pushed until a later date in last year's federal budget, which officials have blamed in delays in several procurement projects.

Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called out Russian Federation on Friday for "aggression" and "mucking" around in the election during separate overseas remarks.

He also stated that American sanctions on Russian Federation will remain "until Moscow reverses the actions that triggered our sanctions".

"Secretary Mattis, one of your generals has said that Russian Federation may be arming the Taliban in Afghanistan and there is also the presence of Islamic State in the country", a Daily Mail reporter asked.

Tillerson arrived in Brussels following a visit to Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally and key player in both Syria and Iraq where Washington wants to defeat the Islamic State jihadists. He tipped his hat to concerns sparked by President Donald Trump about the fallibility of Article 5 - the pledge for collective defense. Baltic countries Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia see Russia's intervention in Ukraine as a particular threat. The story about making eye contact with Tillerson is the most galling, but his aide also had to shoot down rumors that he doesn't intend to fill certain key positions in the department, and plans to tear up an attractive office next to his own to install cubicles.

The ongoing commitment of NATO Allies and partners to peace in Afghanistan, including to an eventual settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban, protects this Alliance's interests, and, when successful, ensures that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists.

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