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Defying Pessimists, NATO Summit Ends on Positive Note

  • Luis Ramirez

Under a sunny spring sky, NATO on Thursday moved into shiny new headquarters that some said project a forward-looking image at odds with critics' characterization of the alliance.

While some European leaders are anxious about the future, others saw Thursday's NATO summit — where discussions were driven largely by the latest terrorist attacks in Europe — as a chance for the alliance to set out in a new direction.

The sprawling, steel-and-glass wings of the new complex are meant to resemble interlocking fingers. The facility drew the admiration of U.S. President Donald Trump, who lightened the mood among leaders otherwise nervous about what he might say.

"I never asked what the new NATO headquarters cost. I refuse to do that. But it is beautiful," Trump said, drawing laughs and smiles.

With a price tag of $1.2 billion, the complex is rich with symbols of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's history and its future.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, visits with Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, May 25, 2017.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, visits with Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, May 25, 2017.

Merkel dedicates Berlin Wall memorial

At a ceremony, German Chancellor Angela Merkel dedicated a Berlin Wall memorial composed of two sections of the reinforced concrete barrier — a symbol of a free Europe reunited after the Cold War.

A memorial of twisted beams from the World Trade Center towers, destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, is a reminder that combating terrorism has emerged as a key NATO objective in the 21st century. It's also symbolic of the allies' commitment to come to the aid of any member who is attacked — the collective defense clause of the NATO treaty, known as Article 5. After 9/11, the NATO allies invoked Article 5 for the first and, so far, only time.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks with US President Donald Trump, left, during a summit at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, May 25, 2017.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks with US President Donald Trump, left, during a summit at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, May 25, 2017.

Leaders agree to set up intelligence sharing unit

"President Trump dedicated the 9/11 and Article 5 memorial — a powerful reminder of NATO solidarity and importance of our common fight against terrorism," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters.

Stoltenberg praised Trump's current U.S. budget proposal, with its increase in military spending, as "the strongest possible sign of commitment to our alliance."

Leaders agreed to move ahead with an action plan to fight terrorism and set up an intelligence-sharing unit.

The atmospherics of the meeting were better than expected, and that, analysts say, was perhaps Thursday's biggest accomplishment.

"I think at this meeting the mood may have improved," Judy Dempsey, a security analyst at the Carnegie Europe research organization in Brussels, told VOA. "Europeans were very, very nervous about [Trump's] coming. He's here, the sun is shining."

The building, she added, reflects the fact that NATO is here to stay.

Montenegro to become 29th member

The complex speaks of an organization in good shape and resolved to continue efforts against threats in places like Afghanistan, where NATO leaders are soon to decide on boosting troop levels for the training of Afghan forces.

The subject of Russia came up, with the U.S. leader listing it among the top security threats.

The alliance continues to grow. Leaders on Thursday welcomed the president of Montenegro, whose country is soon to become NATO's 29th member.

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