President Donald Trump called on NATO “to become much more involved in the Middle East process,” during Wednesday remarks at the White House.
Trump made a brief mention of the expansion of the alliance’s role in the Middle East as part of remarks following the attack on Iraqi military installations that house U.S. troops.
On Wednesday, Trump and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had a conversation about NATO and its role in the region, according to a readout of the call provided to USNI News.
“The President asked the Secretary General for NATO to become more involved in the Middle East,” reads the statement.
“They agreed that NATO could contribute more to regional stability and the fight against international terrorism. They also agreed to stay in close contact on the issue.”
The call to Stoltenberg comes a day after NATO members of the anti-ISIS forces based in Iraq are temporarily relocating to Kuwait as the tensions between Iran and the U.S. remain high following the killing of Iranian Quds Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani last week.
Since 2018, about 500 NATO troops have been stationed in Iraq with a focus on anti-ISIS operations.
“NATO Mission Iraq is a non-combat training and capacity-building mission that is conducted with full respect for Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” an outline of the mission reads.
The effort is part of NATO’s mission to project stability outside of its borders, Lauren Speranza, Deputy Director of the Transatlantic Security Initiative at The Atlantic Council, told USNI News on Wednesday.
“A lot of the work that NATO is doing in the Middle East. This involves counter-terrorism operations; capacity-building to make the militaries and security institutions of NATO’s neighbors more coherent, strong, less corrupt; and to basically promote stability overall,” she said.
“A lot of this has come in the form of military training missions and capacity-building work in Iraq and also in Afghanistan through the Resolute Support mission.”
Trump’s call for NATO to do more in the Middle East follow remarks from French President Emmanuel Macron in November accusing the alliance of “brain death” and confusion as to the real focus of where the threats to Europe originate.
“Peace in Europe, the [post-Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty] situation, the relationship with Russia, the Turkey issue; who’s the enemy? So I say: as long as these questions are not resolved, let’s not negotiate about cost-sharing and burden-sharing, or this or the other,” he said reported Reuters.
“Our common enemy at the alliance is, it seems, terrorism, which has hit all of our countries.”
France has suffered several terror attacks from Islamic extremists in the last several years. Speranza said Trump’s comments could line up with Macron’s sentiments.
“You could also argue he’s dovetailing on President Macron’s comments when we have the big question over whether NATO is brain dead, but Trump said that NATO should be focusing more on terrorism as the biggest threat to the alliance,” she said.
“You could say that this is Trump’s way of firstly trying to get the Europeans more involved in the region. And this gets to his normal criticism of NATO that the Europeans aren’t standing up to their end of the bargain and that they should actually play a stronger role in the region — to contribute more financing, more capabilities, more personnel to these kinds of [Middle East] missions.”
The following is the complete readout of the Jan. 8, 2019, call between Trump and Stoltenberg.
The Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg had a phone call on Wednesday (8 January 2020) with US President Donald Trump on developments in the Middle East. They discussed the situation in the region and NATO’s role.
The President asked the Secretary General for NATO to become more involved in the Middle East. They agreed that NATO could contribute more to regional stability and the fight against international terrorism. They also agreed to stay in close contact on the issue.
NATO plays a key role in the fight against international terrorism, including through training missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and as a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.