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NATO expects Trump commitment: Stoltenberg

NATO head Jens Stoltenberg has played down concerns that Donald Trump will scale back Washington's role within the alliance. He told defense ministers in Brussels that he expects Trump to "live up to all commitments."

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told EU defense ministers in Brussels on Tuesday that "a strong NATO is important for Europe but it's also important for the United States."

Trump's election last week raised concerns that the US would abandon its near 70-year security guarantee to come to Europe's defense in the event of an attack. The president-elect had distanced himself from the NATO and the EU during his election campaign.

However, echoing comments made President Obama on Monday, Stoltenberg stressed that NATO will continue to provide a "bedrock" of security. 

"In times with uncertainty as we live in now, with the turmoil, the violence we see in Iraq, Syria, but also a more assertive Russia in the East, NATO is as important as ever," he said.

The NATO head's comments come following an op-ed in Britain's "Observer" newspaper on Sunday in which he issued a stark warning that "going it alone is not an option... this is no time to question the partnership between Europe and the United States."

US President Barack Obama made similar comments, saying he was also sure Trump would stand by US security commitments. On his tour of Europe, which began on Tuesday in Greece, Obama stressed that NATO "is something that provides significant continuity even as we see a transition of government in the United States."

"Across Democratic and Republican administrations there is a recognition that the NATO alliance is absolutely vital," he said.

Watch video 00:32

Obama: Trump committed to NATO

'Better burden sharing'

Stoltenberg also said he agreed with Trump that Washington has long shouldered a disproportionate share of NATO's expenditure.

"I absolutely agree with him; that has been the message from US leaders for many years," Stoltenberg told European defense ministers. "The good thing is that we now see that Europeans are actually investing more in defense... therefore contributing to better burden sharing,"

After years of defense cuts, the Ukraine crisis shook European NATO members, leading to the continent's biggest military build up since the end of the Cold War. All alliance members have agreed to devote two percent of national output to defense.

Greater dialogue with Russia

Stoltenberg's speech also follows reports that Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a phone conversation on Monday where the two agreed to work towards "constructive cooperation."

Stoltenberg said that he would also welcome greater dialogue between NATO and Russia. "The message from NATO has been that we want dialogue with Russia," he said. "Russia is our biggest neighbor, Russia is there to stay and especially when tensions run high and especially when we face many different security challenges, it is important to have dialogue."

Belgien - EU Ministertreffen (Getty Images/AFP/E. Dunand)

German Defence Minister von der Leyen has reiterated concerns over Russia's military activities.

However, Stoltenberg maintained that Russia's annexation of Crimea, which he described as a "violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine," remained a major sticking point.

That message was echoed by German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who reiterated concerns over Russia's military activities in eastern Ukraine and Syria. "It is ... important not to forget our principles," she said.

"We should also not forget that Russia bears a humanitarian responsibility in Aleppo, where 250,000 people are threatened with death from hunger," von der Leyen added. Russian military forces have supported the regime of president Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian government's brutal civil war against rebel forces.

dm/se (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP)

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