President Barack Obama said in a press conference Monday that when he travels to Europe this week he will be able to deliver a message to US allies that President-elect Donald Trump remains committed to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
Obama told reporters that Trump “expressed a great interest in maintaining our core strategic relationships” when they spoke last week at the White House.
“I think that’s one of the most important functions I can serve at this stage, during this trip, that there is no weakening of resolve when it comes to America’s commitment to maintaining a strong and robust NATO relationship,” Obama said. “And that there is a recognition that those alliances aren’t just good for Europe, but they’re good for the United States and vital for the world.”
Obama’s characterization of his conversation with Trump about NATO appears to contradict what Trump said during his campaign about the 28-member defence alliance.
Trump frequently questioned the value of NATO along the campaign trail, and he has postulated that the US should not be obligated to come to the defence of its NATO allies if they “aren’t paying their bills.”
Notably, Obama has also criticised some NATO members in the past for not paying their fair share. But he has never gone as far as to suggest, as Trump has, that the US disengage from the alliance completely because some of its members are not living up to various financial obligations.
Trump’s comments have worried European officials faced with a rapidly deteriorating relationship with Moscow. Russian officials warned over the summer that Europe could find itself in Russia’s “crosshairs” if NATO didn’t back down from plans to conduct war games in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
“The newer members of NATO — and especially the Baltics — have reason to be very concerned,” Stephen Biddle, an adjunct senior fellow for defence policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and professor of political science at George Washington University, told Business Insider last week.
“They’re not rich enough or big enough to defend themselves against the Russians, and a Trump administration’s willingness to help them is very unclear,” he said.
It’s more unclear given Trump’s stated admiration for Putin, as well as his apparent desire to work more closely with Russia to fight terrorism once he takes office.
Putin has repeatedly characterised the US-led organisation as an “aggressive” force whose aim is to isolate Russia from Europe — rhetoric that’s grown more heated amid NATO’s military exercises in the Baltic Sea. Russia has responded to those drills by transferring nuclear-capable missiles to Kaliningrad, which borders Poland and Lithuania.
Trump and Putin spoke by phone Monday, Trump’s transition team said, in a call in which Trump said he was “very much looking forward to having a strong and enduring relationship with Russia and the people of Russia.”
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