Bitter rows threaten NATO unity

Thursday, December 5th, 2019 00:00 |
NATO heads of State attend the plenary session of the NATO summit at the Grove hotel in Watford, northeast of London on Wednesday. Photo/AFP

  Watford, Thursday

NATO leaders sought to make a show of unity on Wednesday as they met to conclude their annual summit, but the alliance’s chief admitted a festering row with Turkey was still unresolved.

What should have been a celebration of NATO’s 70th birthday has been overshadowed by bitter rows about money and the future strategy of the alliance.

Last year, the Western allies’ get-together was derailed by US President Donald Trump’s demand for greater European defence spending, but 2019’s provocateur was France’s Emmanuel Macron.

Strategic dialogue

The French president has called for a renewed strategic dialogue with Moscow and demanded that Turkey explain itself over its assault—backed by Syrian rebels Paris sees as extremists — on Kurdish forces and its purchase of the Russian S-400 air defence system.

The first day of the special anniversary summit saw tensions bubble to the surface. US President Donald Trump and Mr Macron met for talks and in a news conference sparred over Nato’s role, Turkey, and Islamic State group (IS) fighters.

Ties between Trump and Macron were already strained amid a dispute over taxes and trade, and comments from the French president last month that the US commitment to the alliance was fading.

Trump had earlier hit back by saying the French leader had been “very disrespectful” by describing Nato as “brain dead” in what he said were “nasty” comments. Macron then said he stood by his words.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meanwhile has threatened to hold up NATO efforts to bolster the protection of the Baltic republics against Russia unless the allies brand the Kurdish militias who defeated the IS group in Syria as “terrorists”.

Amid fears Erdogan could even veto the summit declaration and with barely two hours to go before the leaders sat down for their sole roundtable, NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg admitted a solution to the row with Turkey had still not been found.

“I’m confident that we will be able to find a solution to the issue related to the updating the revised defence plans,” he said as he arrived for the summit at a luxury golf hotel in Watford, on the outskirts of London.

“I discussed this with President Erdogan last night and we are working on the issue as we speak.”

The summit host, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, played down the dispute.

“There is far, far more that unites us than divides us, and I think one thing every leader here is absolutely resolved upon is the vital importance of NATO for our collective security,” he said as he arrived.  -Agencies

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