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NATO Chief: 'Have to be Strong' in Response to Russia But Dialogue Important

NATO Chief: 'Have to Be Strong' in Response to Russia
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The head of NATO says members of the alliance are united in their stance toward Russia in a way they have not been for many years.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday in an interview with VOA's Serbian Service that NATO is committed to stepping up its defense while at the same time continuing dialogue with Russia.

"The dual track approach, meaning we have to be strong, we have to deliver credible deterrence and defense, that is the reason we are implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense now as a response to what Russia did in Ukraine," Stoltenberg said. "It’s not an easy dialogue, but that’s exactly why the dialogue is important."

The approach is a modern version of the Cold War NATO "dual-track" decision that linked deployments of U.S. long-range theater nuclear forces to proposals for negotiations with Moscow over Soviet forces in Eastern Europe.

In recent months, NATO's defense has been in focus with the arrival of U.S. President Donald Trump and his calls for other nations to increase their defense budgets.

To the dismay of many NATO allies, Trump did not mention American support for Article 5 of the alliance's founding treaty, which calls for common defense, when he addressed a summit of NATO heads of state in Brussels last month.

But Stoltenberg said members of the Trump administration, including the president, have voiced support for NATO on numerous occasions.

"President Trump has expressed on different meetings and in a press conference with me at the White House in April that he is committed to NATO," Stoltenberg said.

He added that the commitment is not only in words, but in actions.

"The budget proposal that the administration put forward just a week ago has a 40-percent increase of funding for U.S. military presence in Europe. More troops, more exercises, more investment in infrastructure, equipment supplies. All of that underlines and shows U.S. commitment to NATO."

It is up to the U.S. Congress to work out in a long process how much of Trump's budget proposal turns into actual spending, but Trump has made it clear he wants to boost defense funding.

Regarding Trump's call to allies to do more in the fight against terrorism, Stoltenberg said the alliance has been already playing a vital role in counterterrorism.

"You have to remember that our biggest military effort ever is our presence in Afghanistan. The reason why we are in Afghanistan is to prevent the country from becoming once again a safe haven for international terrorists," he said. "We decided as part of a broader action plan against terrorism to join the international coalition to defeat ISIL. That’s sends a strong political signal, but also provides a platform for more and better cooperation and coordination with the efforts of the coalition.”

Stoltenberg said terrorist attacks such as the recent ones in London and Manchester are no longer solely a policing issue for Europe.

"We need a comprehensive approach. We need, of course, the police, law enforcement, civilian intelligence. But we also need to step up further our political and ideological fight against this violent ideology and this kind of extremism. We need to also address some of the instability, which is motivating and supporting the types of attacks we are seeing in our own streets."

NATO has established a special division to enhance intelligence-sharing among allies to better fight terrorism emanating from the Middle East and elsewhere.

Alliance member Turkey has seen a number of terrorist attacks, and Stoltenberg noted no other NATO ally has suffered more than Turkey. There was also a failed coup there last year, but Stoltenberg expressed that those security concerns do not give Turkish leaders the ability to do whatever they want.

"Turkey has the right to defend itself against terrorist attacks, to prosecute also those there who are behind the foiled coup attempt. But at the same time, this has to be done based on the rule of law and our democratic values, and I have stated that clearly in my meetings in Ankara," he said.

Turkey's crackdown on the opposition and the press has strained ties with a number of NATO nations. But it remains an important player in challenges the alliance is facing.

"Turkey is a key ally not least because of its geostrategic location -- bordering Syria and Iraq, bordering Russia in the Black Sea -- and Turkey is key to the way Europe is handling the migrant crisis. NATO is present with its naval ships in the Aegean Sea, helping to stem the flow of migrants and that would not have been possible without the cooperation of Turkey and Greece, which are part of NATO," said Stoltenberg.