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US affirms 'unshakeable commitment' to NATO

January 24, 2017

Amid criticism from President Donald Trump, Washington has vowed support for the NATO alliance. US Defense Secretary James Mattis has reached out to his EU counterparts, saying the US "always starts with Europe."

NATO and US flags
Image: picture alliance/Photoshot/W. Wei

US Defense Secretary James Mattis has reassured his British counterpart of the "unshakeable commitment" the US has toward the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.

Less than a week on the job, Mattis also spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to affirm the importance of the alliance.

"The two leaders discussed the importance of our shared values, and the secretary emphasized that when looking for allies to help defend these values, the United States always starts with Europe," Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said.

"Both pledged to consult in the months to come and look forward to meeting in person during the NATO Defense Ministerial in February," he added.

Mattis' calls to European defense officials comes less than two weeks after US President Donald Trump told the German daily "Bild" and British newspaper "The Times" that the alliance was "obsolete."

"I said a long time ago that NATO had problems. Number one - it was obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago," Trump said.

Afterwards, German Chancellor Angela Merkel rebuked Trump's remarks, saying Europe can take care of itself.

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'Real terms'

In the interview, Trump criticized member states for failing to meet defense spending targets recommended by the alliance.

"We're supposed to protect countries, but a lot of these countries aren't paying what they're supposed to be paying, which I think is very unfair to the United States," Trump said.

Although Stoltenberg announced in June that defense spending across the alliance had shown an increase in "real terms," only five countries hit the NATO guideline of 2 percent of GDP, including Greece, Estonia, Poland, the US and UK.

Germany's defense spending remained 1.19 percent of GDP, roughly unchanged compared to the previous two years. However, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen earlier this month said Berlin will raise its defense spending to 1.22 percent of GDP.

After speaking with Mattis, British Defense Minister Michael Fallon said both nations would push members to meet their defense spending commitments.

"We talked of our joint leadership in NATO, including modernizing the alliance and how we ensure that all members meet the NATO 2 percent spending commitment," Fallon said.

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ls/cmk (dpa, AFP, Reuters)