- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2019

“It’s good to have friends.”

That was NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s parting advice at the end of a milestone address to a joint session of Congress, a highlight of three-day Washington visit meant to mark the 70th anniversary of the Western military alliance and — politely — take on the arguments of an American president who has questioned the alliance’s purpose and the commitment of other members to fund its operations.

A day after meeting President Trump in the Oval Office, Mr. Stoltenberg was careful to praise Mr. Trump’s relentless campaign to pressure NATO allies to boost their defense spending in his remarks to lawmakers.

“That has been the clear message from President Trump, and this message is having a clear impact,” he said, citing rising contributions from a number of European allies.

But speaking later at a NATO event organized by the Atlantic Council, the Norwegian NATO chief made a different argument, reminding the U.S. audience that defense burden-sharing is “not just about cash, it’s about capabilities and contributions.”

“We have to be able to both focus and put emphasis on the financial contributions, but at the same time not forget about the other aspects and the other contributions of the NATO alliance,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s invitation to Mr. Stoltenberg, the first time a NATO secretary-general has addressed both houses of Congress, was seen in part as a shot by lawmakers unhappy with Mr. Trump’s sometimes adversarial relations with key U.S. allies.

The new Democratic House in January approved — with significant Republican support — a “NATO Support Act” that would prohibit the use of funds to withdraw from the alliance and states that it is U.S. policy to remain a member of NATO.

Events in Washington this week were markedly more low-key than commemorations of past alliance milestones, with foreign ministers — rather than heads of government — gathering to mark the occasion. Vice President Mike Pence, in an address Wednesday, praised NATO’s achievements but called out NATO members Germany and Turkey for recent disputes with the U.S. on dealing with Russia and the crisis in the Middle East.

Mr. Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister who has headed NATO since 2014, told lawmakers that despite differences between member nations, “we’ve always been able to defend each other, protect each other and to keep our people safe.”

But he also told U.S. lawmakers, “We have to be frank — questions are being asked on both sides of the Atlantic about the strength of our partnership. And, yes, there are differences.”

The NATO chief called on Russia to return to compliance with the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty banning shorter-range nuclear weapons. President Trump announced his intention to pull out of the INF in February, saying Moscow has been cheating for years on the 1987 pact. Russia denies it has violated its obligations under the INF.

“We do not want to isolate Russia,” Mr. Stoltenberg said, adding he favors working with Moscow to “reduce risks, to avoid incidents, accidents and miscalculations,”

“Russia has taken no steps [to return to compliance],” he said. “We do not want a new arms race, we do not want a new Cold War … but we must not be naive.”

Mr. Pence later declared that unless Russia agrees to the unlikely move to destroy all violating missile systems, Moscow “will bear the sole responsibility for America’s withdrawal in the next six months.”

Russia has until July when the treaty will be officially voided and the U.S. would no longer be bound by the INF’s blanket ban on the production of midrange nuclear weapons.

Mr. Stoltenberg on Thursday will lead a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to mark seven decades for the alliance.

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