NATO’s Stoltenberg Contacts Turkey, Germany FMs over Airbases Dispute

Turkey

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg contacted each of the German and Turkish foreign ministers last week in an attempt to resolve the dispute over Turkish airbases.

The dispute centers over visits by German officials and lawmakers to Turkish airbases, which is part of a wider row between the two allies.

“We hope that Germany and Turkey are able to find a mutually acceptable date for a visit,” a NATO spokesman said.

Stoltenberg had called Sigmar Gabriel and Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday to ask them to settle the disputes.

Germany has refused to extradite asylum seekers Turkey says were involved in last year’s coup attempt, Berlin is demanding the release of a Turkish-German journalist and Ankara has refused to let German lawmakers visit soldiers at two airbases.

German soldiers contribute to a NATO air surveillance mission at Konya, 250 km (155 miles) south of the Turkish capital Ankara, and its troops stationed at another air base, in Incirlik, have already been moved to Jordan.

Germany’s armed forces are under parliamentary control and Berlin says the lawmakers must have access to its soldiers.

On Friday, Berlin said that Ankara once again blocked a visit by its lawmakers to German troops stationed at Konya.

Turkey asked the legislators to postpone a scheduled visit next Monday, the German foreign ministry said, adding that it regretted the decision.

The dispute comes after Germany last month pulled out 260 troops from Turkey’s Incirlik base, from where a multinational coalition is fighting the ISIS terror group, and redeployed them and their Tornado surveillance jets to Jordan.

Some 20-30 German troops have remained at Konya as part of an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACs) mission, part of the coalition’s campaign against ISIS in neighboring Syria and Iraq.

The German foreign ministry insisted that all sides, including NATO, remained in talks on setting a new date for a visit.

Lawmaker Wolfgang Hellmich, head of the parliamentary defense committee, said Turkey’s latest move amounted to another denial of the right to visit German troops, and that Ankara had referred to the “strained bilateral relations”.

Hellmich added that he saw no chance now of parliament renewing the mandate for the smaller contingent later this year.

Kiev Pledges Reform for NATO Roadmap as US Urges Russia to Ease Tensions in Ukraine

NATO

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko vowed on Monday that his country will carry out reforms for it to meet the necessary standards to be able to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

He added that Kiev and NATO will begin discussions on a roadmap to get Ukraine into the alliance by 2020.

His announcement came a day after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged, during a visit to Kiev, Russia to take the “first steps” in easing the violence in eastern Ukraine.

At loggerheads with Russia and fighting a Kremlin-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine, Ukraine passed a law in June prioritizing NATO membership as a foreign policy goal.

Speaking alongside Poroshenko on a visit to the Ukrainian capital, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg pledged the alliance’s support for Ukraine as it faces a bloody insurgency by pro-Russian separatists in the east.

“Russia has maintained its aggressive actions against Ukraine, but NATO and NATO allies stand by Ukraine and stand on your side,” Stoltenberg said in his opening remarks of the NATO-Ukraine Commission session in Kiev.

Ukraine and the West accuse Moscow of smuggling weapons and troops across the porous border, a charge it denies. The US and European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia, though Moscow has denied backing the rebels.

“Ukraine has clearly defined its political future and future in the sphere of security,” Poroshenko told reporters.

“Today we clearly stated that we would begin a discussion about a membership action plan and our proposals for such a discussion were accepted with pleasure.”

NATO leaders agreed at a summit in 2008 that Ukraine would one day become a member of the alliance and the country already contributes troops to NATO missions including in Afghanistan.

A formal NATO membership plan for Ukraine would mean meeting targets on political, economic and defense reforms, with national plans submitted annually to show progress.

But there are even larger barriers.

NATO rules state that aspiring members must “settle their international disputes by peaceful means”, meaning Ukraine would need to resolve the Donbass conflict — an insurgency by pro-Russian forces — that has so far killed more than 10,000 people.

Responding to Stoltenberg’s comments, the Kremlin said on Monday that Russia does not have troops in Ukraine.

It added: “Ukraine’s possible NATO membership will not boost stability and security in Europe.”

On Sunday, Tillerson visited Kiev and said Russia must make the first move in staunching the violence in eastern Ukraine.

Russia must take the first steps to de-escalate violence in eastern Ukraine, he said after meeting Poroshenko. He added that Washington’s primary goal is the restoration of Ukrainian territorial integrity.

Tillerson’s tough talk clearly pleased Poroshenko, who has long complained about Russian interference in his country’s east and has watched nervously as the Trump administration has sought to improve ties with Moscow.

He thanked Tillerson for the continued US commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and expressed deep appreciation for his “symbolic and timely visit immediately after the meetings at the G20 in Hamburg” where US President Donald Trump met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014 have driven ties between Moscow and the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.

“We are also here to demonstrate NATO’s solidarity with Ukraine and our firm support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of your country,” Stoltenberg said.

“NATO allies do not and will not recognize Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea.”

Ukraine sees NATO accession as a way to bolster its defenses against former master Moscow.

However, Kiev has yet to officially apply to start the lengthy and politically challenging process of joining the alliance.

NATO Agrees to Send more Troop Trainers to Afghanistan but No Combat Role

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Two years after winding down its military operation in Afghanistan, NATO decided to increase troop numbers in the war-ravaged country to help train local forces facing a resurgent Taliban.

“I can confirm we will increase our presence in Afghanistan,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday as he arrived for a defense ministers meeting at the 29-nation alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.

The alliance ended its longest-ever military operation in 2014 when it handed over post-9/11 frontline duties to the Afghan military and took on an advice and training mission.

But NATO commanders have asked for more troops following recent Taliban gains, stoking fears that NATO could get sucked back into the conflict just as it faces a host of new threats including Russia, terrorism and cyberattacks.

An increase of up to 3,000 troops from the current figure of 13,500 soldiers is under consideration, diplomatic sources said, though Stoltenberg did not give a precise figure.

He said 15 countries had already pledged more contributions and he hoped for more.

“We have to understand this is about training, assistance, advice… It is not to conduct combat operations but to help the Afghans fight,” Stoltenberg said.

The extra troops could help bolster Afghan special forces, improve Kabul’s air force to provide ground support and evacuations, and step up officer training, he added.

About half of the soldiers in what is known as the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan are currently from the US.

US President Donald Trump has pushed the Cold War-era alliance to do more to counter terror and for the allies to increase defense spending to ease the burden on Washington.

British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said London would provide just under 100 troops, on top of 500 already in Afghanistan.

Separately, a senior NATO military official played down concerns that the alliance would get embroiled once again in Afghanistan, where it took over the lead role from US forces in 2003.

The real increase would number only in the hundreds to meet fresh tasks contained in a new Afghan government plan for the war, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

It only comes to thousands if current shortfalls in Resolute Support Mission numbers were included, the official said.

Belgium Launches Terrorist Attacks Warning System

Brussels- The Belgian government has revealed that it would start implementing a warning system that communicates information on terrorist attacks to mobile devices via text or voice messages.

Belgium’s Interior Minister Jan Jambon said on Twitter that the government wants to alert citizens on terrorist attacks or big fires that occur in different regions.

He asked citizens to register their mobile phone numbers on a special official website so that they receive warnings.

In March last year, three coordinated suicide bombings occurred in Belgium- two at Brussels Airport in Zaventem, and one at Maalbeek metro station in central Brussels.

The attacks left 32 people dead and 300 others injured.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that any possible decision by the organization to join the anti-ISIS coalition would “not change” its role.

His remarks came during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Markel in Brussels and in response to a reporter’s question on a US wish for NATO to become an official member of the coalition.

“NATO should be much more engaged in, training, capacity building and not so much focused on big military combat operations beyond our borders,” he said.

“I think that one lesson we have learned from Afghanistan but also actually from Iraq is that in the long run the only viable solution is to enable local governments, local forces to stabilize their own country and to fight terrorism themselves,” Stoltenberg said.

As for Merkel, she said: “We are right now engaged in talks about the extent to which NATO can contribute in an official manner to the efforts of the coalition.”

“Talks are ongoing … and I encourage the Secretary General to continue these talks and to perhaps to conclude them” by May 25, when NATO leaders are scheduled to hold the organization’s next summit.

US President Donald Trump has criticized Germany for not spending more on its own defense, and the issue could figure prominently at the upcoming summit.

Tillerson Presses NATO on Spending: US Will Commit to Past Agreements

Tillerson

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told NATO that the Washington will remain committed to previous agreements and ensure that the alliance has the capability to defend itself, including from Russian aggression.

He warned, in his first NATO meeting in Brussels, allies to boost defense spending or come up with plans to reach the alliance’s budget guidelines by a May summit of NATO leaders.

Tillerson said that the US is spending a “disproportionate share” on defense compared with its 27 partners, and that he expects action by the time President Donald Trump meets with other alliance leaders on May 25.

NATO leaders pledged in 2014 to halt defense spending cuts and move toward a guideline target of 2 percent of gross domestic product within a decade. Only four other nations currently meet the target: Britain, Estonia, Greece and Poland.

Tillerson did not say what would happen if European allies and Canada fail to respect their pledges. During election campaigning, Trump suggested that he might not come to the defense of those allies who do not do their fair share, rocking allies with borders near an increasingly aggressive Russia, like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

However, Tillerson sought to calm any fears, saying Friday that “we understand that a threat against one of us is a threat against all of us, and we will respond accordingly. We will uphold the agreements we have made to defend our allies.

US allies also want to hear exactly what more Washington expects NATO to do against the ISIS extremist group.

NATO has fought insurgents in Afghanistan, and is training Iraqi officers so that local forces can make a strong stand against extremists. There is no appetite to deploy troops in counter-terrorism operations. Allies believe that the international coalition against ISIS should be leading combat operations, not NATO.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the lesson learned from operations in Afghanistan, but also in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina, is that “in the long run it is much better to fight terrorism and project stability by training local forces, building local security institutions, instead of NATO deploying a large number of combat troops.”

France’s foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, insisted that only a political solution can bring peace to Syria and cut extremism off at its roots.

On the subject of Russia, Tillerson said he would hold talks with NATO allies about “Russia’s aggression in Ukraine”, signaling a tougher stance toward Moscow from the Trump administration.

State Department officials said Tillerson would work with NATO allies to press Russia to fulfil its obligations under the Minsk agreements to end the war in eastern Ukraine.

Tillerson’s remarks appeared likely to ease concerns that Trump is more interested in cultivating ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin than in shoring up the 28-nation alliance against a more assertive Moscow.

Allies have been alarmed at the prospect of Trump seeking to improve relations with the Kremlin at the expense of support for the pro-Western government in Ukraine and NATO allies in former Soviet parts of eastern Europe.

Russia in 2014 annexed Crimea from Ukraine and backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

A senior NATO official told reporters on condition of anonymity that the Trump administration was now taking a more “mainstream” approach to the alliance and anxiety among allies had eased.

NATO Establishes South Center to Coordinate Information on Terrorism

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Brussels- NATO defense ministers were expected in a Wednesday meeting to decide on establishing a southern defense hub at NATO’s allied inter force command center in Naples, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at the beginning of two-day talks with NATO defense ministers in Brussels.

He added that the hub would help coordinate information on countries experiencing a crisis such as Libya and Iraq, and help deal with terrorism and other challenges from the North African and Middle Eastern region.

NATO’s Framework for the South, which sets down the basis for the Naples, focuses on ‘”the search for information and considerations on the situation in place as well as capacity building in countries in the region and coordination of all operations that can be done for the south.”

The ministers also discussed NATO’s Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance capability and agreed to develop a follow-on capability for NATO AWACS planes after they retire around the year 2035.

Tasked with increasing the capacity to identify threats and improve situational awareness, the plan is part of an effort by NATO to strengthen its role in combating terrorism, a key area of concern for President Donald Trump, who has criticized allies for not doing enough against such threats.

In a brief statement Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis called NATO a “fundamental bedrock for the United States,” offering comments aimed at reassuring some allies, though admonishing that Washington “will moderate its commitment” to the alliance if they did not increase their spending on defense.

While committed to the southern counter-terrorism center, NATO has not mentioned when operations will begin.

Trump Vows Strong Support for NATO in Call with Stoltenberg

Trump

Washington – President Donald Trump pressed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s general secretary on how to encourage member nations to pay more for their defense while expressing “strong support” from the U.S. for the alliance, according to readout of the call released by the White House.

Ina call on Sunday with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump agreed to join a meeting of NATO leaders in late May and discussed the potential for “a peaceful resolution of the conflict along the Ukranian border,” according to the readout.

Over the past week a flare-up in hostilities has erupted between the Ukrainian military and Russia-backed separatists, with each accusing the other of a new wave of shelling. More than 40 people have been killed in both government and rebel-held areas.

Trump was elected on a pledge to push NATO members to increase their funding to the western alliance to ease the financial burden on the United States.

This proposal has drawn opposition from both his fellow Republicans as well as Democrats and the idea has worried European allies who fear Russian President Vladimir Putin might take advantage.

The U.S. President has drawn fire at home for wanting to warm up ties with Putin.

In an interview-broadcast on Sunday during Fox Channel’s Super Bowl pre-game show, Trump waved off concern from interviewer Bill O’Reilly that “Putin is a killer.”

“We’ve got a lot of killers…You think our country’s so innocent? You think our country’s so innocent?” Trump said, citing the 2003 war in Iraq.

NATO Opens Regional Center in Kuwait, Stresses Partnership with GCC

Kuwait- NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stressed the need to boost security cooperation with Gulf States during the opening of the first North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI) Regional Center in Kuwait on Tuesday.

Stoltenberg described the center as a nucleus for cooperation between NATO and the GCC, especially in the war against terrorism.

“It will be a vital hub for cooperation between the alliance and our Gulf partners,” he stated.

Senior diplomats and dignitaries attended the ceremony, including Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al Khaled, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretary-General Abdulatif Al Zayani, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa and the Chief of Kuwaiti Security Bureau Sheikh Thamer Ali Sabah.

Stoltenberg said that NATO and the ICI would work together to promote cooperation on strategic analysis, civil emergency planning, military-to-military cooperation, and public diplomacy.

He noted that strengthening partnership through the regional center was “vitally important to NATO”.

“The security of Gulf countries is directly linked to the security of all Allies. We face common security threats like terrorism, weapons proliferation, and cyber-attacks. And we share the same aspirations for peace and for stability. So it is essential that we work more closely together than ever before”, Stoltenberg stated.

The regional center would also provide advanced training courses on cyber security, energy security and chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, the NATO chief added.

For his part, Kuwait’s foreign affairs minister warned that the region was facing serious challenges that require cooperation with international organizations.

He stressed the importance of bolstering cooperation with regional and international organizations to cope with the grave threats, mainly, the “scourge of terrorism”.

Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled noted that Kuwait joined the ICI back in 2004 and ties with NATO have since developed to include fields such as strategic analysis and disaster management.

Meanwhile, Al-Zayani said that the launching of the regional center was an important step in promoting cooperation between the NATO and GCC countries, especially in the wake of the situation in the region.

NATO Committed to Sustaining anti-ISIS Coalition’s Momentum

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Brussels-The fight against ISIS is a main topic on the agenda of discussions of NATO defense ministers who are holding a two-day meeting in Brussels.

Alliance head Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that NATO will contribute its support for the U.S.-led coalition battling ISIS in Syria and Iraq through sophisticated surveillance planes.

NATO leaders agreed in July to commit the AWACS planes after Washington had pressed hard for the alliance to make a concrete gesture to help the fight against ISIS.

“NATO itself is now offering direct support with our AWACS surveillance aircraft,” Stoltenberg told a press briefing in Brussels, announcing that the first flight took place on October 20.

NATO was “committed to sustaining the coalition’s momentum so that ISIS can be defeated once and for all,” he said at alliance headquarters on the sidelines of the two-day defense ministers meeting.

Stoltenberg’s remarks came as U.S.-led coalition forces carried out 11 airstrikes against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq on Tuesday, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve said in a press release.

The coalition airstrikes in Syria were launched near the towns of Abu Kamal, Shadaddi and Mara, and destroyed tactical units, fighting positions and vehicles.

In Iraq, the airstrikes were waged near four locations, including Mosul and Haditha, and destroyed a number of ISIS infrastructure targets, such as tunnels, mortar systems, fighting positions, communications facilities and vehicles.

In addition to the war on ISIS, the NATO defense ministers are set to evaluate previous decisions taken in building up the battalions being deployed in eastern European allies.

NATO leaders endorsed plans at their Warsaw summit in July to rotate troops into the three Baltic states and Poland to reassure them they would not be left in the lurch if Russia was tempted to repeat its Ukraine intervention.

Britain, Canada, Germany and the United States agreed in July to lead the battalions of some 1,000 troops each, with the other 24 NATO allies expected to provide different components — transport, communications and medical units.

Atlantic Alliance to Announce Developing Missile Defense in Warsaw Summit

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Brussels-NATO summit in Warsaw will announce the achievement of NATO’s missile defense system initial level of operational readiness, said Monday NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

“We intend to announce the release of a missile defense system on the initial level of readiness,” he said at a press conference in Brussels.

Stoltenberg said Allied leaders, meeting in Warsaw on Friday and Saturday (9 July), will take key decisions to strengthen the Alliance’s defense and deterrence and project stability beyond NATO’s borders.

While Stoltenberg claimed that the funds of the European missile defense system “cannot intercept Intercontinental ballistic missiles of Russia.”

“We delivered a faster, a stronger, and a more ready Alliance. We now need to take the next steps. So at our Summit in Warsaw, we will agree to further enhance our military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance,” said Stoltenberg.

Moscow believes that the system, which has been years in the making, could be used to shoot down Russian missiles. NATO argues this is technically impossible. The United States, which has taken the lead in the project, says the system is actually meant to counter Iran.

“This is not directed against Russia,” Stoltenberg said.

For its part, Russia has described NATO’s U.S.-led missile shield as a top security threat, rejecting Washington’s claims that the shield is intended to fend off the Iranian missile threat.

Tension on this matter has escalated in May after launching a missile defense site in Romania.

The missile shield uses a network of radars that track potential threats in the atmosphere, before launching an interceptor missile from a stationary base, or a fleet.