U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, meeting with his NATO allies’ counterparts, said Friday in Brussels that they must increase their countries’ defense budgets.
The top U.S. diplomat told the foreign ministers the alliance must have “all of the resources, financial and otherwise, that are necessary for NATO to fulfill its mission” in places like Iraq and Syria.
Earlier Friday, Tillerson said he also wanted to discuss “Russia’s aggression in Ukraine” with the NATO allies.
Upon arrival in Brussels, the top U.S. diplomat said he sees three important areas to discuss: NATO’s resources for its mission, the organization’s fight against terrorism, including Islamic State, and NATO’s posture in Europe, “most particularly Eastern Europe in response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere.”
The comments concerning Moscow are some of the strongest the Trump administration has made since coming to power in January.
Tillerson’s visit to Brussels comes one day after meeting with top Turkish officials in Ankara.
He hailed Turkey as a trusted ally after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other leaders Thursday.
Tillerson underlined the importance of Turkey in the battle against Islamic State.
But the two NATO allies remain at loggerheads over Washington’s support for the Syrian Kurdish group the PYD and its militia, the YPG, in fighting Islamic State militants. Ankara accuses the PYD of being a terrorist organization affiliated with the PKK, which is fighting the Turkish State.
In a joint news conference, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stressed Turkey’s opposition to support of the PYD, but did not directly criticize the Trump administration.
Tillerson acknowledged no breakthrough on the dispute, saying more discussions are needed. “We are exploring a number of options and alternatives,” but reiterated Washington’s support of Ankara in fighting the PKK.
With Washington stepping up its military support of the YPG before the operation to liberate Raqqa, the self-declared capital of Islamic State, Ankara increasingly appears resigned to the fact that its call for its military forces to replace the Syrian Kurdish groups has been rejected. But a presidential source ruled out any retaliatory measures against the United States, stressing it did not want the issue to undermine future cooperation.