If Donald Trump was a super hero, one of his powers would be the astonishing speed with which he shifts strategies and changes ideas. The US president did it again yesterday when he said that NATO is no longer obsolete and that ties with Russia are in an all-time low.
Trump met with Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO Secretary General, to talk about the situation in Syria and Eastern Europe and the fight against terrorism. Earlier this week, NATO welcomed Montenegro as a new member. Trump, during his election campaign, had described NATO as “obsolete” and questioned the need to be a part of the alliance, since the allies were not keeping their part of the deal. Trump’s main complaint was that NATO allies were not devoting the right amount of money to the alliance’s budget.
At yesterday’s joint press conference with Stoltenberg, Trump appeared to think differently. “I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism. I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer,” said Trump, forgetting his rhetoric before the elections. The president praised the alliance for its contribution in preserving international peace and security and continued saying that “this alliance defeated communism and liberated the captive nations of Eastern Europe. We must not be trapped by the tired thinking but apply new solutions to face new circumstances.”
Stoltenberg agreed with Trump commenting that “we agreed today that NATO can do more in the fight against international terrorism. We must pledge cash, capabilities and contributions to the effort.” The NATO general secretary stressed the important strategic role of the alliance saying that “together we represent half of the world’s economic and military power. No other superpower has ever had such a strategic advantage.”
While the State Secretary Rex Tillerson was in Moscow for talks with the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, Trump said that the US are not getting, at all, along with Russia and “perhaps we hit an all-time low at this point.” The president avoided any comment on Vladimir Putin and tried to stress the need of preserving good relations between the two countries. “Things went pretty well with the Secretary’s trip to Moscow, maybe better than anticipated. It would be wonderful if we get along with Russia. Russia is a strong country, so as we. We’ll see how that will work out.” He also said that he wants to believe that Russia didn’t know anything about the attack with chemical weapons on a Syrian rebel-held village, allegedly carried out done by Assad’s forces.
Stoltenberg agreed with Trump that is imperative for NATO to be in a good relationship with Russia. “Russia is our neighbour, Russia is here to stay. What we do is proportionate, it is defensive, and we don’t want a new Cold War,” said Stoltenberg in an obvious effort to calm things down between Russia and NATO over the tension that has been created in Eastern Europe.
At the same moment in Moscow, Rex Tillerson met with the Russian president Vladimir Putin and his counterpart Sergey Lavrov. The 2-hour meeting with Putin secured the maintenance and re-activation of the communication line between the US and Russia, which ensures that the two air force contingents won’t clash in Syrian airspace during their missions. Tillerson said that a group of diplomats from the two sides will work to solve “smaller problems so we can advance in solving the bigger ones.”
In contrary to the positive signs from meeting with Vladimir Putin, Sergey Lavrov didn’t take a step back and insisted that the US hasn’t learned anything from history, regarding removing or replacing dictators. “We’ve already gone through such experiments based on the need to overthrow some dictator or authoritarian leader. I don’t know of any positive examples of removing a dictator.”
Talking to journalists, Tillerson had shared Trump’s view that the current state of relationships between the two countries is at low point. He insisted that Assad cannot be the leader of a future Syria and asked from Russia to be involved in that saying that “the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end. Russia, perhaps, has the best means of helping the Assad regime recognize this reality.”
The Russian side doesn’t seem to share Tillerson’s view. Just a few hours later, it blocked in the United Nations Security Council a resolution which would allow chemical inspectors to investigate the chemical weapons attack on the Khan Sheikhun village in Syria.