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    German soldiers attend a ceremony to welcome the German battalion being deployed to Lithuania as part of NATO deterrence measures against Russia in Rukla, Lithuania February 7, 2017

    Washington Supports NATO's Dialogue & Defense Approach to Russia - Stoltenberg

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    Washington supports the idea of a dual-track approach to Russia, meaning defense and dialogue, according to the Alliance's secretary general.

    MOSCOW (Sputnik) – US officials, including President Donald Trump and Secretary of Defense James Mattis told NATO that Washington supported the alliance’s approach to Russia of dialogue and defense, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday.

    "When it comes to Russia, well the message has been in the phone calls I had with the president, the secretary of state [Rex Tillerson] and secretary of defense, is that they fully support the dual-track approach, which is about defense and dialogue," Stoltenberg told a press conference.

    The Alliance will maintain the political dialogue with Russia as long as the bloc is strong, predictable and united, Stoltenberg underlined.

    "I welcome dialogue between NATO and Russia, but also of course between NATO allies, including the United States, and Russia," the NATO secretary general stressed.

    Earlier in the day, US Defense Secretary Mattis arrived in Brussels for the first time since taking office to attend a NATO defense ministers’ meeting to show the United States' commitment to NATO.

    During his presidential election campaign Trump has repeatedly declared that NATO has become obsolete and threatened to decrease support of those European NATO states, who fail to fulfill their obligations as part of the military alliance, particularly in the sphere of defense spending.

    UK Prime Minister Theresa May managed to secure a commitment from Donald Trump that he will fully support NATO.

    During a press conference on January 27, as the UK PM was the first foreign minister to visit Trump at the White House, she was able to get the US president to stand behind the military alliance, which contradicts his views that NATO is "obsolete" which he expressed in the run-up to the US election.

    The NATO secretary general said European NATO members and Canada increased their defense spending in 2016 by 3.8 percent, or $10 billion.

    Stoltenberg added he would meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

    The event will take place on February 17-19.

    "I will meet Foreign Minister Lavrov when I go to Munich, and we have met before on the margins of the Munich Security Conference. I think that provides a useful platform to continue the dialogue with Russia, and I look forward to the meeting," Stoltenberg said.

    The official said he expected to discuss with Lavrov a wide range of issues, "including the situation in Ukraine, but of course also how we can avoid increased tensions, misunderstandings, how we can improve transparency, predictability."

    NATO has been significantly increasing its presence in Eastern Europe after the eruption of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014 using alleged Russian interference in the Ukrainian internal affairs as a pretext, a claim Russia has repeatedly denied.

    Moscow has repeatedly voiced its protests against the NATO military buildup saying that will undermine regional stability and result in a new arms race.

    During the last NATO summit in July, NATO resolved to strengthen its military presence in Eastern Europe on a rotational basis with four battalions in Poland and in the Baltic nations. During the 2014 summit, NATO established a 5,000-strong Very High Readiness Joint Task Force in response to the alleged Russian threat.

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    Tags:
    NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, Donald Trump, Sergei Lavrov, United States, Russia
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