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Trump says US committed to NATO's mutual defense pledge
By Paul HANDLEY
Washington (AFP) June 9, 2017


Juncker says Europe can no longer 'outsource' protection
Prague (AFP) June 9, 2017 - Europe has to take care of its defence given the shift in US policy, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said Friday, promoting a hefty defence fund announced by Brussels.

"The protection of Europe can no longer be outsourced," Juncker told a defence conference in Prague.

"Over the past decade, it has become crystal clear that our American partners consider that they are shouldering too much of the burden for their wealthy European allies," he said.

On Wednesday, the EU unveiled an unprecedented plan to set up a 5.5-billion-euro ($6.15-billion) a year fund, following a Franco-German led bid to focus on security and defence to provide a new sense of purpose after last year's Brexit vote shook Europe.

"We have no other choice than to defend our own interests in the Middle East, in climate change, in our trade agreements by stepping up our efforts on defence and by doing so together," he said.

US President Donald Trump, who follows an "America First" policy, berated his European partners on military spending at a raucous NATO summit in Brussels last month.

Juncker said the EU would not compete with NATO, with which it shares 22 members, adding: "NATO has been and will remain the cornerstone of European security for decades. We are different but we complement each other."

NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller said the alliance welcomed the proposed fund.

"A stronger European defence means a stronger NATO and a stronger NATO means a stronger European defence," she said, adding neither NATO nor the EU could tackle current challenges alone.

India, Pakistan join China and Russia-led security bloc
Astana, Kazakhstan (AFP) June 9, 2017 - Asian rivals India and Pakistan on Friday formally joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a security bloc spearheaded by China and Russia, despite bilateral tensions bubbling over Kashmir.

Leaders of the largely symbolic body -- including Russia's Vladimir Putin and China's Xi Jinping -- formally signed off on the sub-continent duo's accession at the annual SCO summit in Kazakhstan's capital Astana.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Indian counterpart Narendra Modi reportedly shook hands and exchanged greetings late Thursday at the opening of the SCO meeting, although New Delhi said that no formal bilateral meeting between the two was planned.

Modi on Friday hailed India's accession as a "landmark moment in the journey of the SCO" and pledged India would play a "constructive and active role" in the organisation that also includes ex-Soviet states Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Sharif thanked the founding members for their "staunch support" for his country's entry into the organisation, which he hailed as "an anchor of stability in the region".

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947. Both claim the territory in its entirety.

India regularly accuses Pakistan of arming militants, while Islamabad denies the allegation, saying it only provides diplomatic support to Kashmiris seeking self-determination.

But both Moscow and Beijing expressed optimism that the two neighbours' entry into the SCO could strengthen prospects for peace across the region.

Founded in 1996, the SCO is viewed as a vehicle for managing competing Chinese and Russia political, economic and military interests in the strategic region.

China is championing ambitious infrastructure projects, including land and sea links touted as a revival of the ancient Silk Road trade route.

Russia, in turn, has focused on broadening its Eurasian Economic Union integration project involving former Soviet allies.

US President Donald Trump said Friday that the United States remained committed to NATO's mutual defense pledge, after he failed to endorse it in a speech in Brussels last month.

Amid worries by Washington's European partners that the US leader had not fully bought into the Atlantic alliance, Trump told reporters: "I'm committing the United States to Article Five. Certainly we are there to protect."

"That's one of the reasons that I want people to make sure we have a very, very strong force, by paying the kinds of money necessary to have that force," Trump told a joint press conference with visiting Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

The US president stunned Europe's leaders at a summit in Brussels on May 25 when he failed to publicly back the now 29-member bloc's founding mutual defense guarantee.

Instead he castigated the allies for failing to pay their way with contributions to NATO forces, singling out especially Germany.

According to Politico, Trump's defense and security advisors included in his prepared speech a clear endorsement of the mutual defense pledge, but Trump himself struck it out just before speaking.

Doubts have remained since then, despite US diplomats and military leaders themselves restating the pledge.

- Trump to visit Poland -

Just days before his January 20 inauguration, Trump rocked the post-World War II western alliance by calling NATO "obsolete."

Article Five has been the core of the NATO treaty's strength since it was formed amid a budding Cold War with communist states -- particularly the Soviet Union -- in 1949.

It has only been invoked once -- in support of the United States, after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

On Thursday, Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee had called on Trump to declare his support for Article Five.

Trump's pledge on Friday came shortly before the White House announced that he would travel to NATO ally Poland ahead of the Group of 20 summit in early July.

"The visit will reaffirm America's steadfast commitment to one of our closest European allies and emphasize the administration's priority of strengthening NATO's collective defense," the White House said.

- 'Money pouring in' to NATO -

Speaking beside Iohannis, Trump suggested his pressure on other NATO members had had an effect.

"As you know, I have been an advocate for strengthening our NATO alliance through greater responsibility and burden sharing among member nations," he said.

"Because of our actions, money is starting to pour in to NATO.... Other countries are starting to realize that it's time to pay up. And they're doing that. Very proud of that fact."

"Because together we can confront the common security challenges facing the world," he added.

Trump praised Iohannis for boosting his country's defense spending. Romania joined the NATO alliance in 2004.

"We hope our other NATO allies will follow Romania's lead," Trump said.

Iohannis said NATO's mutual defense commitment was a crucial part of a defense against an aggressive Russia.

"In my opinion, we have to be very clear, very simple, very straightforward if we talk about Russia, and with Russia," he said.

"In my opinion, we need dialogue. But on the other hand, we need what we all together decided in NATO -- a strong deterrence."

Republican Senator Tom Cotton called Trump's explicit statement of commitment to Article Five "a good thing."

"But make no mistake: uttering magic words does not deter aggressors like [Russian President] Vladimir Putin. Only the credible threat of military force does," he said in a statement.

"And until Democrats and our European allies get serious about funding our common defense, deterrence in Europe will remain dangerously weak."

Jorge Benitez, a NATO specialist at the Atlantic Council, said Trump's statement was less than a whole-hearted commitment.

"Trump keeps using caveat: "I want people... paying the kind of money necessary to have that force," Benitez said on Twitter.

SUPERPOWERS
Qatar crisis has 'no impact' on US military operations: Pentagon
Washington (AFP) June 6, 2017
A Saudi-led move to isolate Qatar has had "no impact" on US military operations in the emirate, nor is any expected, a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday. The US has a regional command center at Al-Udeid air base near Doha from which it runs air operations throughout the region. "There has been no impact on our operations either in Qatar or with regards to airspace permission around it and ... read more

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