Berlin’s defense minister in US to discuss military cooperation; president to meet heads of trans-Atlantic alliance in May

BY AGENCIES February 10, 2017

Germany’s defense minister agrees with America’s call for European NATO members to shoulder more of the burden in the alliance.

Minister Ursula von der Leyen said Friday that the Trump administration’s call — which echoes long-standing US policy — is “a fair demand.” Von der Leyen met with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Washington to discuss military cooperation between the two countries.

Berlin is keen to strengthen ties with its trans-Atlantic ally after US President Donald Trump set alarm bells ringing by calling NATO “obsolete” last month. Germany relied on US military protection during the Cold War and has remained far below the defense expenditure threshold of 2 percent expected of NATO members.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that Germany will increase its military spending going forward.

Trump will meet fellow NATO leaders in May, the White House said earlier this week, after the president’s call with the alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

The US president expressed “strong support for NATO” but called on European members to pitch in more, the White House said in a statement, adding that Trump “agreed to join in a meeting of NATO leaders in Europe in late May.”

“The parties agreed to continue close coordination and cooperation to address the full range of security challenges facing NATO,” the White House statement said.

The United States provides significant funding to NATO, and Trump has previously urged other member nations to step up their contributions.

“The leaders discussed how to encourage all NATO allies to meet their defense spending commitments,” Sunday’s statement added.

European leaders are concerned about Trump’s virulent criticism of NATO — he has dubbed the transatlantic military alliance “obsolete” — at a time when it stands as the main defense against Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.