Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a flurry of phone calls over the weekend in support of President Donald Trump’s call to turn the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into “NATOME,” adding two letters for “the Middle East.”
Trump has been a longtime critic of NATO, a Cold War-era pact that commits the United States and Canada to defend Europe from Russian aggression. He has previously complained that NATO is an unfair arrangement for the United States, and reportedly considered pulling out of the alliance several times in 2018, as he saw it as pointless. But despite his critiques, he now seems to support an expanded role for the alliance as his administration struggles to balance deteriorating relations with Iraq and the threat of war with Iran.
Fractures in the trans-Atlantic relationship, however, make a joint mission in the Middle East a tough sell.
Trump’s call for a NATO with a Middle East focus during a January 8 press conference came on the heels of the U.S. assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani in Iraq, which occurred on January 3 and heightened tensions. In the aftermath of the drone-strike assassination, NATO suspended its training mission for counter-ISIS forces in Iraq, a decision that coincided with the Iraqi parliament’s push to expel foreign forces. Iranian leaders promised “hard revenge” and fired over a dozen ballistic missiles at U.S. forces in Iraq on January 7, but no one was killed.
“NATO, right, and then you have ME, Middle East. They would call it NATOME,” the President told reporters on January 9. “I’m good at names, right? What a beautiful name, NATOME.”
The State Department rushed to turn Trump’s words into action over the weekend. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Pompeo “agreed NATO could contribute more to regional security and the fight against international terrorism” during a January 9 phone call, according to readouts published by both the U.S. State Department and NATO headquarters.
Pompeo made seven more calls to European or NATO countries related to the Middle East and Iran, from January 9 to January 12, according to U.S. State Department statements.