65ºF

NATO chief heads to Paris as France comes under fire

BRUSSELS – NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday that he will travel to Paris next week for talks with President Emmanuel Macron after the French leader lamented the “brain death” of the world’s biggest military alliance.

Macron's very public criticism of NATO — notably a perceived lack of U.S. leadership, Turkey’s unilateral decision to invade northern Syria without warning its allies, and the need for Europe to take more responsibility for its own security — has shaken the alliance.

His choice of words was rejected as “drastic” by German Chancellor Angela Merkel the day after they were published in The Economist magazine. Senior U.S. and European officials have since piled on, leaving France feeling isolated for speaking out.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Wednesday before chairing a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, Stoltenberg said the best way to resolve differences “is to sit down and to discuss them and to fully understand the messages and the motivations.”

He said that the world needs “strong, multilateral institutions like NATO and therefore we should strengthen NATO, not weaken NATO,” and warned that “if we distance Europe from North America, we weaken NATO, but we also divide Europe.”

Stoltenberg’s meeting with Macron, scheduled for Nov. 28, comes a few days before U.S. President Donald Trump and his NATO counterparts meet in London for a one-day summit marking the 70th anniversary of the organization.

U.S. envoy Kay Bailey Hutchison launched a news conference in the wake of Stoltenberg’s by saying that “we firmly disagree with President Macron’s assessment of NATO.”

She said that “NATO is absolutely essential if we are going assess the risks that we face all together and the thought of only one of our countries, or one of our groups of countries, facing the enormous risks to our populations alone is not even rational.”

In Poland, a staunch U.S. ally on NATO’s eastern front, the country’s prime minister also gave his strong backing to the alliance as well as the European Union’s ties with the United States.

Mateusz Morawiecki said in parliament Tuesday that recent criticism of NATO’s principle of mutual defense principles “weaken our security and threaten the future of the Union and of NATO.”

He said Poland would work to “defend the alliance between Europe and the U.S.”

But Trump himself has branded the alliance “obsolete,” and chastised NATO members for failing to pull their weight through insufficient defense spending. His decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria also surprised the allies. Turkey viewed that move as a greenlight for its invasion.

With NATO’s unity creaking as nations appear increasingly ready to go it alone, Stoltenberg conceded that the alliance faces internal challenges on its 70th birthday, but he expressed confidence that this growing political crisis at the world’s biggest military alliance can be overcome.

“Questions are being asked about the strength of the trans-Atlantic relationship. There are indeed differences among allies on a range of different issues. Such as trade, climate, the Iran nuclear deal. And more recently, the situation in North East Syria. But differences and doubts among Allies are not new. Despite them, NATO has only grown stronger over the last 70 years,” he said.

___

AP Writer Monika Scislowska in Warsaw contributed.