Twelve hours after being sworn in U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went straight to NATO headquarters in Brussels in what European allies saw as strong support for an institution that U.S. President Donald Trump once called obsolete.
Pompeo’s first meeting was with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, which the head of the military pact said was “a great expression of the importance of the alliance.”
As NATO foreign ministers gathered in Brussels, Pompeo called NATO “invaluable”, a sharp contrast to Trump’s earlier rebuke of the alliance.
A senior U.S. State Department official said Pompeo was due to discuss “heightened Russian aggression, Iran’s regional threat” and ways to strengthen NATO.
“The work that is being done here today is invaluable and our objectives are important and this missions means a lot to the United States of America,” Pompeo said at the start of his meeting with Stoltenberg.
Pompeo, a former Army officer who was a Republican congressman, is regarded as a loyal supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump with hawkish world views.
His presence at NATO was seen as crucial as the alliance prepares for a July 11-12 summit in Brussels where NATO leaders are set to agree a stronger deterrent to Moscow, including a special command to defend the Atlantic in the case of conflict.
The State Department official said: “Our aim is to show a unified position on Russia, with no business as usual.”
The official also said NATO could expand to take in new Western Balkan members, something Russia is desperate to avoid, accusing the alliance of seeking to encircle Moscow and threaten peace in eastern Europe.
Pompeo will also press members of the alliance to increase their military budgets to meet a target of 2 percent of economic output on defense every year by 2024, the official said.
The issue is sensitive to Europeans because the region is recovering from a long economic crisis and defense spending is less of a priority. But the United States insists that allies, especially Germany, pay their fair share of defending Europe.