WHITE HOUSE —
Two weeks after the terrorist attacks in Brussels, U.S. President Barack Obama and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg marked the tragedy while reinforcing the importance of staying focused on the fight against the so-called Islamic State militant group.
“This is obviously a tumultuous time in the world. Europe is a focal point of a lot of these stresses and strains in the global security system,” said Obama, sitting alongside the secretary general in the Oval Office Monday.
In remarks to reporters following talks with Stoltenberg, the U.S. president praised NATO's contributions in countering Islamic State, particularly the alliance’s efforts to train and assist local forces in Iraq and Jordan.
Stoltenberg reaffirmed NATO’s support for other countries in the region to stabilize and fight IS. He said "different ways of building local capacity is high on our agenda in NATO."
The two leaders also discussed Afghanistan, with Obama calling NATO an extraordinary partner in bringing stability to the South Asian country.
"The coalition there continues to focus on assisting the government and the Afghan National Security Forces, building up capacity, pushing back against the Taliban and helping Afghans to provide security for their own country and hopefully being able to arrive at some sort of political settlement that will end decades of conflict and violence there," Obama said.
Afghanistan will be one of the focal points of the July NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland. Obama noted, “We expect to be able to follow through on the pledges we made to continue to support the Afghan people.”
Members of self-defense battalions take part in a rally to commemorate demonstrators who were killed during the Maidan protests in 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine, Feb. 20, 2016.
Monday's talks also centered on the Ukrainian conflict. President Obama said the United States stands by its commitment to NATO allies.
"We continue to be united in supporting Ukraine, in the wake of Russian incursions into Ukrainian territory. We continue to work in the training and assist fashion in helping support Ukraine develop its military capabilities, defensively," he said.
The president said the United States continues to provide reassurance to frontline NATO allies that “Article 5 means something,” while working with Russia to try to find a resolution to the Ukrainian conflict and "reduce tensions and the dangers of potential escalation."
On the 67th anniversary of the creation of NATO, the American leader took time to praise the alliance, calling it a "linchpin" and a "cornerstone of our collective defense and U.S. security policy.”
The visit comes as Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump continues to question continued U.S. involvement in NATO. Last week, the billionaire businessman called the organization "obsolete" and said he would be fine if it broke up.
During Monday’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Josh Earnest called Trump’s comments “ill-advised.”
When asked whether Obama felt the need to reassure Stoltenberg following Trump’s remarks, Earnest said, “I am not sure that was necessary, quite frankly. President Obama has spoken at length about how important the U.S.-NATO relationship is.”
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed in 1949, partly as a response to the military threat posed by what was then the Soviet Union.
VOA's Bill Gallo contributed to this report