NATO chief says Trump sees alliance’s ‘enduring importance’

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·Chief Washington Correspondent
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  • Donald Trump
    Donald Trump
    45th President of the United States
President-elect Donald Trump: (Photo: CBS via Getty Images)
President-elect Donald Trump (Photo: CBS via Getty Images)

During his history-making 2016 campaign, Donald Trump took heat for suggesting that he would not automatically enforce America’s longstanding commitment to coming to the aid of NATO allies if they were attacked. Trump warned that his administration might not help countries that had not met an alliance-wide pledge to spend at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. The brash entrepreneur at one point also called NATO “obsolete.”

Since Election Day, President-elect Trump has not publicly repeated those comments, which had alarmed national security experts and professionals of both parties.

And NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg now says that the new president assured him by telephone Friday of his commitment to the alliance conceived to protect Europe from potential aggression by Moscow.

“The president-elect and the secretary-general both underlined NATO’s enduring importance, and discussed how NATO is adapting to the new security environment, including to counter the threat of terrorism,” according to a NATO summary of their conversation. The Trump transition team did not return an email seeking its version of the back-and-forth.

Stoltenberg congratulated Trump on his victory over Hillary Clinton and “said that he was looking forward to working with him and his national security team” — and even threw in a nod to the new president’s repeated demands that other NATO countries spend more on their militaries.

The secretary-general thanked Trump “for raising the issue of defense spending during the campaign, which has been a top priority for the secretary-general since his appointment in 2014. The two leaders agreed that progress has been made on fairer burden-sharing, but that there is more to do.”

And Stoltenberg also said he looked forward to welcoming Trump to the annual NATO summit, to be held next year in Brussels.

In the 10 days since the election, President Obama has repeatedly tried to reassure NATO that Trump’s America won’t walk away from its treaty commitments.

In a Nov. 14 press conference, on the eve of his ongoing trip to Europe and Peru, Obama even took on the role of de facto Trump spokesman while describing their Nov. 10 meeting in the Oval Office.

“He expressed a great interest in maintaining our core strategic relationships, and so one of the messages I will be able to deliver is his commitment to NATO and the Transatlantic Alliance,” the president said. “I think that’s one of the most important functions I can serve at this stage during this trip is to let them know that there is no weakening of resolve when it comes to America’s commitment to maintaining a strong and robust NATO relationship.”

It’s a message Obama has carried to each stop of his trip. And he’s not the only one trying to reassure U.S. allies warily watching what the president-elect, who has vowed better relations with Moscow, will say and do.

The day after the election, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reaffirmed his belief in the U.S. commitment to mutual defense under Article V of the NATO charter.

“I will say for myself the NATO alliance is every bit as important today as it ever was,” McConnell told reporters at the Capitol. “You attack any member of NATO, you have us to deal with. I want the Russians to understand that fully.”

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