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NATO scrutinizes Russia, Obama reassures eastern Europe

NATO defense ministers are meeting in Brussels to assess Russia's stance on conflict-torn Ukraine. Visiting Poland, US President Barack Obama has unveiled a $1-billion plan to boost security for eastern Europe.

NATO began a two-day conference in Brussels Tuesday to reassess European security long-term, with Russia topping its agenda. The head of the Western military alliance, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said NATO needed to be "faster and more flexible."

Visiting Warsaw simultaneously at the start of a European tour leading up to D-Day commemorations, President Obama reaffirmed Washington's commitment to "our allies in central and eastern Europe."

They formed the "cornerstone" of the United States' "own security and it is sacrosanct," Obama said while inspecting a joint unit of US and Polish F-16 pilots.

Obama reassures "new allies"

He called on the US Congress to back his "European Reassurance Initiative" - a $1-billion (733-million-euro) - plan to finance extra US troop and military deployments to "new allies" in eastern Europe, notably non-NATO members Ukraine and Georgia.

Obama said additional ground troops and F-16 jets would be rotating into NATO-member Poland. "This is going to help our forces support NATO air missions."

After talks with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski (pictured right of Obama), Obama also called on

Russia to use its influence

to persuade separatists in eastern Ukraine to halt their insurgency.

Obama added that he hoped to "rebuild trust" with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "We are interested in good relations with Russia," Obama said.

The US president also held talks with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

On Wednesday, Obama plans to meet Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko in Warsaw.

On Saturday, US Vice President Joe Biden is due to travel to Kiev to attend Poroshenko's swearing in as the country's fifth post-Soviet president.

Rasmussen welcomes US iniatitive

NATO Secretary General Rasmussen welcomed Obama's announcement from Warsaw.

"I really appreciate the American leadership in taking reassurance measures," Rasmussen said in Brussels at the start of a two-day defense ministers' meeting on

long-term NATO strategy.

So far, NATO's response to seven weeks of pro-Russian insurgency in Ukraine's eastern industrial belt has been limited to ground troop exercises and boosted regional naval and air activities in accordance with agreements struck with Russia after the end of the Cold War.

Putin invited to Normandy

European allies have insisted on inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to Friday's D-Day commemorations in northern France because of the-then Soviet Red Army's role in defeating Nazi Germany in 1945 at the close of World War Two.

The Kremlin said on Tuesday that Putin would meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Normandy, France, to exchange views on Ukraine.

On Monday, Putin's office said he would also hold talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

ipj/pfd (AP, AFP, dpa)

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