Germany balks at Tillerson call for more
European NATO spending
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[April 01, 2017]
By Lesley Wroughton and Robert-Jan Bartunek
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of
State Rex Tillerson reassured his nervous European counterparts over
Washington's commitment to NATO on Friday and pressed them again to
spend more on defense, triggering a rebuke from Germany.
Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said it was neither "reachable nor
desirable" for Germany to spend the agreed NATO target of two percent of
member states' economic output on defense. NATO allies have until 2024
to do that.
"Two percent would mean military expenses of some 70 billion euros. I
don't know any German politician who would claim that is reachable nor
desirable," Gabriel told the first meeting of NATO foreign ministers
attended by Tillerson.
"The United States will realize it is better to talk about better
spending instead of more spending," he said, noting that humanitarian,
development and economic aid to stabilize countries and regions should
In his first remarks to NATO ministers, Tillerson said allies needed to
pay up or outline plans for meeting that target when NATO leaders meet
on May 25 for the first top-level summit of the alliance to be attended
by U.S. President Donald Trump.
Trump has criticized NATO as "obsolete" and suggested Washington's
security guarantees for European allies could be conditional on them
spending more on their own defense. He has also said he wants NATO to do
more to fight terrorism.
"Our goal should be to agree at the May leaders meeting that by the end
of the year all allies will have either met the pledge guidelines or
will have developed plans that clearly articulate how...the pledge will
be fulfilled," Tillerson said.
"Allies must demonstrate by their actions that they share U.S.
In Berlin, German government spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said the
government was committed to increasing defense spending and would
continue to do so "because we know it is necessary and makes sense to
further strengthen our armed forces".
U.S. defense expenditure makes up about 70 percent of the total NATO
allies' defense spending. Only four European NATO members - Estonia,
Greece, Poland and Britain - meet the two-percent target.
NATO head Jens Stoltenberg rejected Gabriel's call to include
non-military spending toward the goal, but said Germany was moving "in
the right direction" with more military spending after years of cuts.
He said NATO ministers on Friday discussed national plans for arriving
at the target as they prepared for the May summit.
In London, Britain's Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said that other
European NATO allies must "raise their game, and those failing to meet
the two-percent commitment... should at least agree to year-on-year real
QUESTIONS OVER U.S. COMMITMENT
Tillerson did, however, offer assurances of Washington's commitment to
NATO during his brief stop in Brussels, where he did not hold one-on-one
meetings with countries, which is customary during such gatherings.
[to top of second column]
NATO Foreign Ministers take part in a meeting at the Alliance's
headquarters in Brussels, Belgium March 31, 2017. REUTERS/Yves
His initial decision to skip his first meeting with NATO foreign
ministers had added to questions about the Trump administration's
commitment. The meeting was later rescheduled and he attended on
"The United States is committed to ensuring NATO has the
capabilities to support our collective defense," Tillerson said. "We
will uphold the agreements we have made to defend our allies."
Tillerson said NATO was fundamental to countering Russian aggression
in Ukraine and said the United States would hold Moscow accountable
to its commitments under a two-year Minsk ceasefire deal. He pledged
to keep sanctions in place against Moscow until it complies with the
Trump has said in the past that, as part of a rapprochement he is
seeking with Russia, he is prepared to review the sanctions, which
were imposed by Barack Obama over Russia's 2014 annexation of
Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula.
"We do not, and will not, accept Russian efforts to change the
borders of territory of Ukraine," Tillerson said according to a
transcript of his remarks.
"The United States sanctions will remain until Moscow reverses the
actions that triggered our sanctions," he added, expressing alarm at
a surge in violence along the front lines in eastern Ukraine.
Stoltenberg said ties between European NATO members and the United
States were "rock solid".
He said "fair burden sharing to keep the trans-atlantic bond strong"
and "stepping up NATO efforts to project stability and fight
terrorism" were on the agenda on Friday as the bloc seeks to respond
to the new, harsher tone from across the Atlantic.
(Additional reporting by Tom Koerkemeier in Brussels, Andrea Shalal
in Berlin and Kylie MacLellan in London; Writing by Gabriela
Baczynska; Editing by Louise Ireland and Mary Milliken)
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