NATO Is Grappling With Trump’s Call for a Bigger Mideast Role

Jonathan Stearns

(Bloomberg) -- The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is debating President Donald Trump’s plea to take on a bigger Middle East role, according to the alliance’s head.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg signaled the focus of NATO’s deliberations is on non-combat missions, like training, in countries such as Iraq. Earlier this month, Trump said “the scope of NATO should be increased” in the Middle East to tackle terrorist threats.

“We are now discussing what does that mean,” Stoltenberg told a European Parliament committee in Brussels on Tuesday. “The issue that we are looking into is not whether we can launch new combat operations. The issue is whether we can do something that prevents us from being forced into new combat. Prevention is better than intervention.”

Trump fueled speculation about a bigger NATO footprint in the Middle East almost two weeks ago after Iran carried out attacks in Iraq on two bases used by American troops as retaliation for a U.S. airstrike that killed top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.

NATO has run a training mission in Iraq since late 2018 aimed at supporting Iraqi forces and preventing the re-emergence of Islamic State. The alliance suspended the mission on Jan. 6 as a result of the heightened U.S.-Iran tensions and security risks in the region.

In his remarks to the EU Parliament committee on Tuesday, Stoltenberg said he believes NATO needs “to go heavy-in and train” authorities in nations such as Iraq in a bid to “build more capacity” and avoid the likelihood of future combat operations there.

“There is now a process inside NATO, but also with our partners and not least with partners in the region -- with Iraq, Jordan and other partners in the region -- about if NATO is going to do more, what more we could we do,” he said. “I believe there is the potential for NATO to do more.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Stearns in Brussels at jstearns2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ben Sills at bsills@bloomberg.net, Larry Liebert, Bill Faries

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