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NATO Secretary-General Reacts To Trump's Speech


We turn now to Jens Stoltenberg. He's the secretary general of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. And he was at the U.N. for President Trump's remarks. We asked him what he thought of the speech and Trump's "America First" approach.

JENS STOLTENBERG: For me, "America First" is not the same as America alone. And I welcome the fact the U.S. is actually increasing their presence in Europe after years of reduced U.S. presence in Europe after the end of the Cold War. We're seeing now more U.S. troops, more U.S. exercises, more U.S. pre-positioned equipment in Europe. And that highlights U.S. commitment to NATO and to European security. Actions speak louder than words. And the U.S. actions in Europe is actually that they're strengthening their presence.

CORNISH: President Trump has continued to be critical, as he has for some time, about NATO members contributing their fair share financially. I'm talking about their defense spending. Do you see any progress on this front? Has it affected the relationship within the alliance?

STOLTENBERG: So what we see is that European NATO allies and Canada are stepping up, investing more because this is something they all agreed to. And we still have a long way to go. But after years of reduction and decline in defense spending across Europe and Canada, we now have seen several years with increase. And just over the last couple years, we have seen 41 billion extra U.S. dollars being added to the defense budget. So I think that President Trump, when he attended the NATO summit in July, he recognized this progress. He welcomed the increased defense spending. But I agree with him that more has to be done.

CORNISH: I'd also like to talk about the fact that NATO's launching its biggest ever military training exercises in Norway. This comes right after Russia finishes its big military exercises which they did jointly with China. It feels like a lot of military posturing is going on here.

STOLTENBERG: So we see more difficult (unintelligible) due to the environment. And we have seen big Russian exercises. All nations have the right to exercise their forces. What NATO is very focused on is the need to be transparent and predictable. And that's exactly what we are when we now are going to have the Trident Juncture exercises in Norway. We invite international observers to participate. We are transparent. But the reason why we now are exercising larger forces is that we live in a more dangerous world. And therefore, NATO has to implement reinforcements. We need to strengthen our collective defense. And one way of doing that is to exercise larger formations.

CORNISH: But aren't the days of large-scale Western military interventions over?

STOLTENBERG: This is not about intervention. This is about making sure that any potential adversary know that NATO has the capacity, the will, the strength to defend and protect any ally against any potential threat. And the reason for doing that is not to provoke a conflict but is to prevent the conflict. We have seen that deterrence has preserved peace in Europe for decades, one of the longest peace periods in the history of Europe. And that's because we have NATO, which is providing this incredible deterrence and defense every day.

CORNISH: The U.S. administration, as we heard from President Trump today, also sees Iran as a military threat, right? And they've talked about this and imposing sanctions. Do NATO member countries see Iran as a military threat as well?

STOLTENBERG: So all the NATO allies agree that Iran is a challenge because they are developing missiles. We are extremely focused on that they have to be committed to only have nuclear programs which are peaceful. And we are concerned about that Iran supports different armed groups and are destabilizing neighbors in the Middle East. So, yes, we share the concern about Iran.

CORNISH: But does that mean that you agree about isolating Iran?

STOLTENBERG: On that issue, there are differences within NATO. Many allies support the Iran nuclear deal. The United States does not support the deal. I welcome the fact that NATO allies are addressing this issue. But all allies agree that we are concerned about Iran's destabilizing activity in the region.

CORNISH: Jens Stoltenberg, thank you.

STOLTENBERG: Thank you. Bye-bye.

CORNISH: Jen Stoltenberg is secretary general of NATO. We reached him at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.