NATO agrees to do more in 'fight against international terrorism' after Trump phone call

9 January 2020

NATO has agreed to “contribute more to regional stability” in the Middle East a day after Iran struck two Iraqi military bases housing US and coalition troops.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on 8 January spoke by phone with President Trump “on developments in the Middle East,” specifically discussing “the situation in the region and NATO’s role,” according to a NATO readout of the conversation.

“The President asked the Secretary General for NATO to become more involved in the Middle East. They agreed that NATO could contribute more to regional stability and the fight against international terrorism,” the statement read. NATO already plays a role in the region as a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and also participates in training missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is unclear what, if any, new specific tasks President Trump was asking NATO to take on.

White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere later confirmed on Twitter that Trump spoke with Stoltenberg and “emphasized the value of NATO increasing its role in preventing conflict and preserving peace in the Middle East”.

In a tweet, Stoltenberg condemned the Iranian rocket attacks and called on Iran to “refrain from further violence. Allies continue to consult & remain committed to our training mission in Iraq". A day earlier the alliance said it was moving some personnel out of Iraq because of the increased danger following the killing of Soleimani. The 500-strong NATO mission has suspended training activities due to the increased security risks, but Stoltenberg has said it will resume when the situation improves.

US and allied foreign troops in Iraq are concerned they might be targeted by Iran or allied Iraqi militias, and some countries involved in the NATO mission have moved their troops out of the country. Germany, for example, is sending 30 of its 120 soldiers in Iraq to Jordan and Kuwait while others will remain positioned in the less volatile Kurdistan region. Canada is also temporarily moving some of its 500 troops in Iraq to Kuwait. “We are taking all precautions necessary to protect our people. This includes the temporary repositioning of some personnel to different locations both inside and outside of Iraq,” a NATO official told Reuters.

Administration officials have defended the killing of Soleimani—who was in charge of directing Iran’s international network of proxy forces—claiming the general was responsible for the deaths of US troops and that he was planning imminent attacks on US interests. However, the administration has provided no solid evidence for its assertions, and critics have accused the president of needlessly ratcheting up tensions with Tehran.

The US administration has been at odds with some leading NATO members, including Germany, France and the UK, over Trump's 2018 decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement that had been brokered during the Obama administration.