NATO insists it is united at end of raucous, divisive summit

Heads of state take part in a working dinner at The Parc du Cinquantenaire — Jubelpark Park in Brussels on July 11, 2018, during the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit. (AFP / POOL / BENOIT DOPPAGNE)
Updated 13 July 2018
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NATO insists it is united at end of raucous, divisive summit

  • Tensions rose on the final day of the two-day summit, when members met in an emergency session amid demands from Trump to speed up defense spending.
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg insisted that Georgia will one day join the world’s biggest security alliance, despite separatist ambitions in parts of the former Soviet republic.

BRUSSELS: At the end of a bewildering, roller-coaster NATO summit, the military alliance’s 29 nations somehow pledged continued unity and kept their long commitment to beef up defense spending amid a barrage of biting criticism from US President Donald Trump.

Even though Trump suggested he could probably withdraw the US from NATO if he wanted to, he conceded “that is unnecessary” because he felt his relentless hectoring had forced other nations to spend more than NATO’s long-term goal of 2 percent of GDP on defense.

Many even fail to meet the current benchmark.

Trump called it “a fantastic meeting,” speaking at a news conference on Thursday before flying to Britain.

Some NATO allies had not exactly heard the same conclusions as Trump around the table, and French President Emmanuel Macron immediately poured cold water on Trump’s spending ambitions for other allies.

“There is a communique that was published yesterday. It’s very detailed,” Macron said.

 “It confirms the goal of 2 percent by 2024. That’s all.”

In the end, leaders left with an awkward consensus, after hours in which Trump had been so aggressive in his approach with allies that reports made the rounds that he might pull the US out.

“President Trump never at any moment, either in public or in private, threatened to withdraw from NATO,” Macron told reporters.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was a prime target of Trump over two raucous days. He accused her nation of being beholden to and a “captive” of Russia for a pipeline deal while at the same time presiding over an economy that seeks to rip off the United States.

By Thursday afternoon she left unruffled and unflappable as ever, telling reporters in Brussels that “there was a clear commitment to NATO by all.”

She said Trump raised the topic of better burden-sharing and more spending by Germany, “as has been discussed for months,” and that “we made clear that we’re on the way.”

Trump has several times assailed Germany for not spending a large enough proportion of its gross domestic product on defense.

Merkel, for her part, stressed that Germany is NATO’s second-biggest contributor when it comes to troops.

Tensions rose on the final day of the two-day summit, when members met in an emergency session amid demands from Trump to speed up defense spending.

“We are paying for far too much of NATO,” Trump said.

At the end though, Trump said the military alliance is “very unified, very strong, no problem.”

 

Separatist ambitions

For an organization Trump once called “obsolete,” he said on Thursday: “I believe in NATO.”

Also on Thursday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg insisted that Georgia will one day join the world’s biggest security alliance, despite separatist ambitions in parts of the former Soviet republic.

Stoltenberg said “Georgia will become a member of NATO.” 

He said the 29-nation alliance supports the territorial integrity of Georgia, including its sovereignty over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Russia and Georgia fought a brief war in 2008, which led to the regions declaring independence. Russia has since been supporting them financially and militarily.

Despite Georgia’s important contribution to NATO operations, the alliance is unlikely to invite it in until the conflict with the two regions has been resolved.


Strasbourg suspect: violent criminal on France terror watchlist

Updated 3 min 27 sec ago
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Strasbourg suspect: violent criminal on France terror watchlist

STRASBOURG: The 29-year-old man sought by police over a shooting in Strasbourg lived in a small apartment in a ramshackle housing bloc and has convictions in France and several European countries after a life of crime, officials say.
The man, Cherif Chekatt, lived in the Poteries area of Strasbourg about a 20-minute tram ride west of the center of the French city and its Christmas market where the attack struck.
“It’s a building for desperate people. No one wants to live there,” one local, Bemba N’diaye, 37, told an AFP reporter near the nine-story concrete bloc where Chekatt’s name is on a letterbox.
“People there are very isolated,” N’diaye said.
Others said the man was known in the area owing to his criminal record, but he kept a low profile, only venturing downstairs for a coffee and baguette.
“His family has lived around here for a while, but he lived on his own nearby,” Zach, a 22-year-old, said. “He was discreet, not a thug.”
The suspected gunman has been sentenced 27 times, mostly in France where he was born, but also in Germany, Switzerland as well as Luxembourg which are easily reached from Strasbourg.
His crimes range from violence to robbery, but not terrorism.
Chekatt was added to a watchlist of possible extremists while in prison in France in 2015 after he “called for practicing a radical form of religion,” French deputy interior minister Laurent Nunez said on Wednesday.
He has since been monitored by France’s domestic intelligence agency, the DGSI, which is occupied monitoring a large number of suspected extremists in France.
Some 25,000 people are currently on the “S” extremism watchlist, 9,700 of them for radicalism “linked mainly to extremist terror movements,” according to the interior ministry.
“He is an individual who has unfortunately been known for a very long time for crime,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told French MPs on Wednesday.
“From the age of 10, his behavior was already criminal. He had his first sentence at 13 years old,” Castaner said.
On a photograph released by French authorities the suspect has dark eyes, black hair and a short beard.
Police had tried to detain Chekatt on Tuesday morning in connection with an attempted murder enquiry, but he was not at home, Nunez told France Inter radio on Wednesday.
A grenade, four knives and a rifle were found during a search of his apartment, prosecutors have said.
Alarmed by their find, police began their manhunt for Chekatt.
“Then at 19:47 (18:47 GMT), he appeared... in the heart of Strasbourg and the Christmas market,” Castaner told the French parliament.
German authorities were on the lookout for the fugitive on Wednesday “along the Rhine” river which serves as the border between France and Germany, a spokesman from the Baden-Wuerttemberg region said.
“But at the moment we do not believe that he has crossed into the country,” he added.
According to Germany’s Tagesspiegel newspaper, Chekatt broke into a dentist practice in Mainz, Rhineland Palatinate state, in 2012, making away with cash, stamps and gold used for teeth fillings.
Four years later, he targeted a pharmacy in the Lake Constance town of Engen, Baden-Wuerttemberg, pocketing cash. He served a year behind bars in 2016 before being expelled back to France.
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told his country’s parliament that the shooter was involved in a robbery there in 2012, without offering any more details.
Chekatt’s profile is “a familiar composite portrait of today’s extremist,” Anne Giudicelli, Director of the consulting firm Terrorisc, told AFP.
“He has ticked all the boxes of the profiles seen before.”