US officials travel to Europe to boost Allied support for Russia, China and Iran

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Senior US officials are in Europe this week to seek to bolster Allied support to counter Iran and China as well as recent Russian measures on the Ukrainian border. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Berlin for his inaugural tour of Europe, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Brussels on Tuesday for talks on Ukraine and the troops of the NATO in Afghanistan.

Almost a year after President Donald Trump ordered thousands of troops out of Germany, ending a series of setbacks in US relations with key allies, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin embarked on an inaugural tour of Europe to consolidate the partnerships that are the cornerstone of the post-Order World War II.

Austin arrived in Berlin on Monday amid a new emerging crisis with Iran, which on Monday accused Israel of a recent attack on its underground nuclear power plant at Natanz. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement, but the attack nonetheless jeopardizes ongoing talks in Europe over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal.

Austin’s visit is also at stake in the future direction of US defense commitments in Europe at a time of growing concern over Russian military intervention on the NATO periphery, including the strengthening of Russian forces near from the Ukrainian border. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was traveling to Europe to discuss with US allies the situation in Ukraine as well as the administration’s reflections on further troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.

The United States is also seeking European support for its approach to combating China in the world and for efforts to restore an international agreement with limits to Iran’s nuclear program.

Austin arrived in the German capital on Monday evening and will hold talks with senior government officials on Tuesday. He will also visit NATO headquarters later this week in Belgium and meet with British defense officials in London. He began his trip to Israel on Sunday, where he highlighted US defense support in meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Austin, a former four-star army general whose military experience abroad was mainly in Iraq, is likely to assure German officials of the Biden administration’s intentions to keep troops in Germany, although the number is subject to discussion in a multi-month global review. of the base of the American troops. Last year, Trump ordered the number in Germany to be reduced from around 12,000 to around 24,000.

On his first visit to NATO Headquarters in Brussels since taking office, Austin will meet Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who said on President Joe Biden’s inauguration day that the arrival of a new administration marked “The start of a new chapter for the trans-Atlantic Alliance. “

Trump’s departure from the world stage has given the Biden administration an opening to restore a more favorable US approach to Europe and the NATO alliance, but the complications will persist. For example, NATO allies are impatient for Biden to decide to withdraw from Afghanistan. NATO has more troops there than the United States, and Biden’s indecision troubles them, not least because they rely on American military support to withdraw their troops and equipment.

The attack on the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz further complicates US efforts to bring Iran back into a nuclear deal. Austin was asked about this earlier Monday while in Israel, and he simply said he expected the administration’s diplomatic efforts with Iran to continue.

‘Pivot’ to Asia

On a larger scale, European allies are still uncertain how their defense and security relationship with the United States will be affected by Biden’s willingness to focus more on China as the main threat to American security. This shift in American thinking began under the Obama administration, which announced a “pivot” to Asia that left Europeans thinking that their American ally was turning its back. Washington has adjusted diplomatically and rhetorically, assuring Europeans that this was only a “rebalancing”.

Then came Trump. His administration further pointed out that China was the main security threat, but the frequent, sometimes shocking, denigration of the transatlantic partnership that had been the foundation of US security policy for decades was of greater concern to Europeans. He fired NATO allies as freelancers, and last summer he ordered the withdrawal of about a third of US forces in Germany, as well as the relocation of US European Command headquarters from the Germany to Belgium.

“We don’t want to be suckers anymore,” Trump told reporters last July, calling Germans ungrateful people who don’t spend enough on defense but expect the United States to protect them from Russia.

Germany has been an anchor for the US military presence in Europe since the early post-war years. In addition to hosting the headquarters of the American European and American commands for Africa, the German air base in Ramstein is the headquarters of NATO air and missile defenses. The US Army’s largest overseas hospital, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, is a few miles from Ramstein Air Base. The US Air Force also has a substantial presence in Germany, including the 52nd Fighter Wing in Spangdahlem.

In his first speech to an international audience, Biden told the Munich Security Conference in February: “America is back, the transatlantic alliance is back and we are not looking back. We look to the future together. “

Biden suspended the Trump decision on a partial withdrawal of troops from Germany, which had not yet been implemented. It seems likely that the administration will decide not to carry out the Trump order.

Jim Townsend, who served throughout the Obama administration as the Pentagon’s senior policy maker on Europe and NATO, said in an interview that he saw enduring value in Austin’s tour in European capitals at the start of his term.

“It’s a better way to mend the torn fabric of this transatlantic relationship,” Townsend said.

Even if Europeans can put the tensions of the Trump era behind them, they will still wonder about Biden’s emphasis on China, which is not a top issue for Europeans. They widely see NATO as a bulwark against Russia, especially since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its intervention in eastern Ukraine, which is not a NATO member but aspires to to join.

(AP)

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