Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on NATO members to “stand together” and confront evolving threats, even as resentments old and new flared at a meeting of alliance diplomats Thursday in Washington.
The gathering of 30 foreign ministers at the State Department focused on threats from Russia and China. Among the challenges, Pompeo said, are “things not solved by more troops being on the ground” — including cyberattacks and hybrid warfare.
In his opening remarks and comments to reporters at the end of the meeting, Pompeo returned to the theme of defense spending, saying that all members need to boost their budgets. He rejected what he called “tired arguments” from leaders who say that their voters will not support it.
“It’s important for them to make the case to their citizenry why collective deterrence is necessary,” he said.
U.S. officials in recent days have slammed Germany over its defense spending. Both President Trump and Vice President Pence have complained Germany is not paying its fair share.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas responded by citing his country’s history in World War II.
“Instead of only talking about ability or willingness to honor commitments with the alliance, we should also make one thing clear,” he said. “NATO may be a security alliance, but above all it’s an alliance of values, and it has a political function.”
Pompeo also found himself in a spat with Turkey over conflicting accounts of his meeting Wednesday with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
A State Department readout of the meeting said Pompeo had warned of “potentially devastating consequences” if Turkey sends forces against Kurds in northeast Syria and expressed “concerns” about Ankara’s plans to purchase the S-400 air defense missile system from Russia.
But Turkey accused the State Department of lying. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said the statement “not only fails to reflect the content of the meeting but also contains matters that were not even raised during said meeting.”
Asked about it Thursday, Pompeo said he had reread the State Department account and pronounced it “spot on.”
The Trump administration has suspended delivery of the F-35 fighter jet over the planned transaction with Russia.
A Pentagon spokesman, Charles E. Summers Jr., told reporters that the U.S. government considers Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 system highly problematic, but declined to say if officials thought it should affect Turkey’s NATO membership.
“There’s great opportunities for the United States and Turkey to work closer together,” Pompeo said at a news conference. “I had a good, long conversation with the Turkish foreign minister yesterday, and I’m very confident we’ll find a path forward.”
Meanwhile, a source of tension between Canada and the Trump administration also resurfaced at the meeting. Speaking to reporters, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland dismissed as “absurd” and “groundless” Washington’s decision last year to label Canada a national security threat, requiring steel tariffs.
Freeland has said she will travel to France to join the Group of Seven countries, whose top diplomats are meeting this weekend to address global security challenges. Pompeo is skipping the session, dispatching Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan to head the U.S. delegation.