Stoltenberg confident in NATO unity despite differences

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BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg believes that existing differences will not undermine the unity of the alliance, but he is also expecting a “robust discussion” during the two-day summit, which will start on July 11 in Brussels.

“Our summit comes at a time when some are questioning the strength of the transatlantic bond,” he said during a press-conference.

The summit is already overshadowed by the policy of U.S. President Donald Trump, who recently sent letters accusing NATO members of not spending enough on defense — spending percent of gross domestic product is the NATO standard. According to NATO estimates, eight allies will spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense this year.

Additionally, Trump has created tension by suggesting that he will be open to recognizing Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, a development that would further weaken international rule of law.

Stoltenberg admitted that he will “not be surprised if we have robust discussions, including on defence spending, but said “different views are normal among friends and allies. But I am confident we will agree on the fundamentals. North America and Europe stand together. We will take decisions to strengthen our alliance and protect our citizens for years to come…I strongly believe that NATO can continue to be the cornerstone of transatlantic security despite those disagreements. We were able to do this before. It is in our common interest to maintain NATO. It is good for Europe but it is also good for North America.”

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison expects that Trump “will recommit to the article 5 (of the North-Atlantic Treaty, calling for a common defense).”

Hutchison said: “It will be clear in the declaration that we all recommit to the importance of article 5. I don’t think that there is any issue whatsoever. There is no window of difference between any of our allies about article 5. It is the foundation of NATO. At NATO we are very firm on the security issues, we are united on the security issues and that includes the U.S. position.

Stoltenberg expects NATO will deliver once again “in strengthening our deterrence and defense. Stepping up in the fight against terrorism. And achieving fairer burden-sharing. Investing in defense is a matter of credibility and fairness. It is about our security in a more unpredictable world. That is why we will discuss defense spending and burden-sharing tomorrow.”

NATO is expected to launch a new training mission in Iraq, increase support for Tunisia with expert advice in areas including counter-terrorism and counter-improvised explosive devices and will step up support for Jordan, including on cyber defense, counter-improvised explosive devises and crisis management. Moreover, allies will adopt a readiness initiative – the “Four Thirties,” which is a commitment to have, by 2020: 30 mechanized battalions; 30 air squadrons; and 30 combat vessels, ready to use within 30 days or less.

The allies will also discuss NATO’s response to hybrid threats.

On July 12, NATO will meet with the presidents Georgia and Ukraine, “two of our closest partners. Together we will address regional challenges. We will also discuss their defence reforms and NATO’s continuing support,” Stoltenberg said.

Finally, he expects allies will agree to invite Macedonia to start accession talks.

“Once the agreement is finalized and implemented, we will be able to invite the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to become NATO’s 30th member under its new name: the Republic of North Macedonia. A strong signal that NATO’s door is and remains open.”

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