BRUSSELS / AP
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday made clear that the United States was committed to NATO while also reinforcing the Trump administration’s demand that allies pay their fair share.
Speaking at his first NATO defense minister’s meeting, Mattis called the alliance “a fundamental bedrock for the United States and for all the trans-Atlantic community.”
That message, delivered as Mattis stood alongside NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, comes amid mixed signals from President Donald Trump and as chaos swirls in Washington. The Pentagon chief made no references to the abrupt forced resignation on Monday of Michael Flynn, the US national security adviser, over his pre-inauguration discussions with Russia, and what the change may mean for US policy toward Moscow.
“I haven’t changed what I’m heading there for,” Mattis told reporters traveling with him to the NATO gathering. “It doesn’t change my message at all.”
The allies’ interest and concern about the latest furor in Washington was evident early on as officials crowded around televisions at the NATO meeting to watch Mattis’ initial appearance with Stoltenberg. Ministers immediately clustered around the retired Marine general as he entered the meeting room.
In public statements, however, NATO leaders brushed aside questions about the turmoil in Washington.
Stoltenberg said he has spoken to Trump twice on the phone, and has gotten the same reassurance from Mattis and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “They have all conveyed the same message to me as they have conveyed to other leaders in NATO countries, and that is that the United States will stay committed to the trans-Atlantic partnership,” Stoltenberg said.
Mattis also urged that “all who benefit from the best defense in the world carry their proportionate share of the necessary cost to defend freedom.” The US wants allies to increase their military funding to the benchmark goal of 2 percent of gross domestic product. Some NATO members have been slowly moving toward that.
He also was expected to press for greater assistance, including additional trainers, in the military campaigns in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
During his Senate confirmation hearing last month, Mattis said he wanted the US to “maintain the strongest possible relationship with NATO.”