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US, German defense chiefs meet, reconfirm ties

June 28, 2017

US Secretary of Defense Mattis and German Defense Minister von der Leyen reaffirmed the importance of their countries' diplomatic ties. Their meeting in Germany came more than a week before the G20 summit in Hamburg.

US and German defense heads Ursula von der Leyen and James N. Mattis
Image: Getty Images/L. Preiss

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis met with his German counterpart at the resort destination of Garmisch-Patenkirchen in the Bavarian Alps ahead of next week's G20 summit in Hamburg. The occasion for the defense chiefs' meeting was the 70th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, proposed in June 1947 by then-US Secretary of State George C. Marshall, which set the foundations for the economic reconstruction of Europe following World War II.

The two defense ministers pledged their ongoing commitment to fostering close international cooperation between the United States and Germany.

"We trust each other, we know each other, and we stand by each other," German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said at the meeting. Von der Leyen also spoke in favor of Germany spending 2 percent of its GDP to meet NATO pledges - an issue that US President Donald Trump had taken umbrage with, accusing NATO partners of not contributing their fair share.

"Being partners, we need to have a fair burden sharing within NATO," she said. "That means we Germans need to do more for our security."

Mattis, meanwhile, assured her that the transatlantic alliance remained strong, stating that Germany and the US stood united and that the NATO military alliance was as relevant today as it was once when it was founded. Mattis' visit to Germany was his fourth to Europe since becoming US defense secretary in January.

Reassuring words

Mattis' comments stood in stark contrast to those of US President Donald Trump, whose stance on cooperation with global partners have caused many to worry. Trump has made more than disparaging comments on the value of NATO, has clearly signaled a departure from international trade agreements as well as from the Paris Climate Accord.

Donald Trump
The public image of the US has suffered under President Donald Trump's leadership, a Pew Research Center survey revealedImage: Reuters/K. Lamarque

He stressed that "beyond any words in the newspapers" America could be judged by its actions - and not its rhetoric: He pointed to continued US support to counter Russia with NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence initiative in the pact's east, which currently is designed to last through 2020. Mattis added that Trump had requested an increase for the European Reassurance Initiative, up from $3.4 billion (3 billion euros) last year to $4.8 billion ($4.2 billion) this year.

Mattis also used the opportunity to accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of creating international "mischief," saying that Russia had chosen to challenge the "secure and peaceful" post-war order.

The Russian people's "leader making mischief beyond Russian borders will not restore their fortunes or rekindle their hope," he said, in what appeared to be in reference to the Ukraine conflict as well as Moscow's alleged meddling in the US electoral process.

Ursula von der Leyen: 'Transatlantic bonds are deep'

US' regard in the world in peril

The reassuring statements from Mattis and von der Leyen came as a recent survey revealed that the image of the United States under President Donald Trump was in sharp decline across the world.

The survey from the Pew Reseach Center, which covered 37 countries, showedUS favorability ratings dropping to 49 percent just five months into Trump's presidency. This compared with 64 percent at the end of his predecessor Barack Obama's eight-year term in office. Trump himself scored even lower in the survey, with just 22 percent of respondents saying they trusted him to do the right thing in international affairs - compared with 64 percent for Obama.

The only two countries that saw ratings improve for Trump over Obama were Russia, where confidence in the US president rose to 53 percent from 11 percent, and Israel, where there was an increase of seven points to 56 percent.

ss/sms (dpa, AFP)