German Chancellor Angela Merkel has welcomed NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg ahead of a large NATO conference in late May. Stoltenberg praised Germany for increasing defense spending and for continuing dialogue with Russia.
After meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg expressed his satisfaction with Germany's contributions to NATO, including the missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo and the Bundeswehr's deployment in Lithuania to protect the alliance's eastern flank.
Stoltenberg also praised the chancellor for her diplomatic efforts in "working with Russia" and continuing dialogue despite the ongoing dispute over Ukraine.
The Norwegian visited Berlin as part of a preparation for the NATO summit in Brussels on May 25. The alliance members are expected to discuss NATO's formally joining the effort against the "Islamic State" (IS) in Iraq and Syria, deploying more troops to Afghanistan, and various other topics, such as raising defense spending.
Old wars, new troubles
Speaking alongside Merkel, Stoltenberg stressed that "no one has asked for NATO to take over a combat role in Syria or Iraq," where its members are already active. However, the military bloc might do more in monitoring the battlefields and training anti-IS forces, he said.
He also clarified that a possible deployment of troops to Afghanistan, where local security forces have been losing ground to the Taliban, would not automatically mean NATO soldiers' joining active combat. The alliance is looking to shift focus from large military missions abroad to stabilizing friendly governments, he added.
Merkel said there were no concrete plans to send more German soldiers to Afghanistan, where she believes that the Bundeswehr is already playing a key role in safeguarding security, especially in the north of the country.
"I don't believe that we are the first in line to increase our capabilities," she said.
The upcoming summit will likely see the United States, NATO's dominant military power, repeat its appeals to allies to increase their defense budgets. Many Western countries fall short of the proposed threshold of 2 percent of gross domestic product, with the economic powerhouse Germany only spending 1.2 percent of its GDP on the military.
Stoltenberg, who also supports meeting the 2 percent mark, was surprisingly noninsistent on the issue on Thursday. He praised NATO members for stopping defense cuts and for gradually increasing their military budgets, which would lead to meeting the standard "in the long run."
"I am very encouraged seeing what European NATO members and Canada have done," he said.
Merkel confirmed that Germany was determined to reach that defense spending goal in the coming years.
dj/mkg (AP, dpa, Reuters)