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US defence secretary James Mattis has said Nato is a “fundamental bedrock” for Washington, as he pushes to reassure allies about Donald Trump’s commitment to the organisation.
Arriving at Nato headquarters in Brussels for two days of talks with defence ministers, Gen Mattis described Nato as his “second home.”
His visit is the first since the Trump administration took power last month after an election campaign in which the US president repeatedly questioned the alliance.
Member states have looked to the visit of Gen Mattis, who once held one of the most senior military posts in Nato, for a public pledge of support for the organisation.
Standing beside Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s top civilian, Gen Mattis said the US had a “shared level of commitment” to the alliance with other member states.
“The alliance remains a fundamental bedrock for the United States and for all the transAtlantic community, bonded as we are together. As president Trump has stated, he has strong support for Nato,” Gen Mattis told reporters.
With the US one of only five Nato allies to meet its target for defence spending, Gen Mattis reiterated Mr Trump’s call for member states to step their contribution to the alliance. In the absence of concrete demands from the US president, allies want Gen Mattis to set out exactly they should intensify their expenditure.
“It’s absolutely appropriate, as a European minister of defence said last week, it’s a fair demand that all who benefit from the best defence in the world carry their proportionate share of the necessary cost to defend freedom,” Gen Mattis said.
“And we should never forget: ultimately it is freedom that we defend here at Nato. I do have confidence that we will prove once again that we can react to the changing circumstances. We’ve done so in the past. There’s every reason for confidence that we will move purposefully together, once again.”