Trump Says Stoltenberg ‘Excited’ for Bigger NATO Role in Mideast

Josh Wingrove

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was “excited” by the president’s suggestion that the alliance become more involved in the Middle East as tensions in the region flare.

“We had a great conversation about it,” Trump said Thursday at the White House. Trump said he had spoken with Stoltenberg on Wednesday, saying, “I’m good at names.” The president said he proposed calling the new Mideast mission “NATOME.”

“Doesn’t that work beautifully?” he asked. “Think of that: NATO, plus ‘ME,’” using the acronym for Middle East.

Trump said NATO should be “helping us in the Middle East” to continue the fight against Islamic State, and in part because many members of the bloc are also parties to the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump has quit and is urging others to abandon.

“I think the scope of NATO should be increased and they should be looking for ISIS, and we’ll help, but right now the burden’s on us and it’s not fair,” Trump said. NATO is already running a training mission in Iraq, aimed at supporting Iraqi forces in preventing a re-emergence of Islamic State.

Trump called for increasing NATO’s involvement in the region during an address Wednesday after Iran carried out attacks on two bases used by U.S. troops in Iraq. The attacks were in retaliation for the U.S.’s Jan. 2 airstrike that killed top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

The president said Iran appeared to be “standing down.”

Trump on Thursday also revived his long-held complaint that NATO members don’t spend enough on defense, telling them: “You gotta pay.”

NATO’s declaration, issued at its London meeting last month, said non-U.S. nations have pledged more than $130 billion more in defense spending over the last five years.

“My biggest fan in the whole world is Secretary General Stoltenberg. Because he can’t believe it,” Trump said. Stoltenberg has established a rapport with Trump by frequently giving him credit for extracting more military spending by other NATO members.

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