In spite of differences, alliance ‘stronger together’ – NATO chief

Jen Stoltenberg

Jen Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General.

Jen Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General.

NATO members disagree on many issues including a new Russian gas pipeline to Germany, but the alliance is stronger together and will deliver on boosting defence spending, NATO Secretary-General Jen Stoltenberg said on Wednesday.

Speaking to newsmen an hour after U.S. President Donald Trump accused Germany of ‘being captive’ to Russian energy supplies, Stoltenberg said it was not up to NATO to decide on the pipeline and that it was a national decision.

He also said while Trump had very direct language on defence spending, the allies all agreed on burden sharing and 2017 saw the biggest increase in defence spending in a generation.

“In spite of disagreements, I expect that we will agree on the fundamentals that we are stronger together than apart,” he told newsmen.

Trump told Stoltenberg that Germany was “captive” to Russia because it is importing energy from there.

In a heated exchange with the NATO chief ahead of a summit in Brussels on Wednesday, the U.S. president was fiercely critical of German oil and gas imports from Russia.

Trump said it was “very inappropriate” for the US to be paying for European defence from Russia while Germany is supporting gas deals with Moscow.

“They pay billions of dollars to Russia and we have to defend them against Russia,” Trump told Stoltenberg at a breakfast meeting.

“Germany as far as I’m concerned is captive to Russia because it’s getting so much of its energy from Russia,” he said

Stoltenberg conceded that there was disagreement between NATO allies over a natural gas pipeline deal between Germany and Russia.

Berlin has been supportive of building a second pipeline to transport Russian gas straight to Germany through the Baltic Sea, despite objections from other EU countries that the pipeline would increase the bloc’s dependence on Russian energy.

The U.S.has previously warned it could impose sanctions if the project goes ahead.

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Addressing reporters after his breakfast with Trump, Stoltenberg said it’s not up to NATO to make a decision on the future of the project.

“This is a national decision,” the secretary-general said. “It’s not for NATO to settle that issue.”

Commenting on the exchange with the US commander in chief, Stoltenberg said that Trump has a “very direct language” but that there was fundamental agreement on the need for “fairer burden sharing in the alliance”.

Dozens of NATO leaders are set to meet in Brussels on for what is likely to be a stormy summit.

Although the 29-member military alliance’s annual meetings have traditionally been fairly by-the-book affairs, expectations are different this year – thanks, in large, to Trump.

The U.S. president has been openly critical of many of NATO’s practices, often railing against Washington spending more money on defence than other member states.

Addressing reporters ahead of the summit, Stoltenberg said he expected “open and frank discussions about defence spending” and recommitment of allies to increase spending.

“I think he’s had frank discussions and far more open than he would like at this stage,” Al Jazeera’s diplomatic correspondent James Bays said, noting the public nature of Trump’s remarks over breakfast.

Bays added it was a “difficult time” for the secretary-general with the most powerful NATO member “raising doubts about the alliance as has never been done before”.

There would be “no love lost” for NATO, Challands said, which Moscow sees as an “imperial US project” to “persuade [Europe] that Russia is the enemy”.

On the flipside, Challands added, Russia would likely be “concerned that what Trump is doing is reinforcing the perception of Russia as the enemy of Europe”.

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