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NATO Head:Biggest Challenge Since WWII 06/29 06:18

   NATO leaders sought Wednesday to turn an urgent sense of purpose triggered 
by Russia's invasion of Ukraine into action -- and to patch up any cracks in 
their unity to overcome what the alliance's chief called its biggest crisis 
since World War II.

   MADRID (AP) -- NATO leaders sought Wednesday to turn an urgent sense of 
purpose triggered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine into action -- and to patch 
up any cracks in their unity to overcome what the alliance's chief called its 
biggest crisis since World War II.

   Russia's invasion of its neighbor shattered Europe's peace and drove NATO to 
pour troops and weapons into eastern Europe on a scale not seen since the Cold 
War. Members of the alliance have also sent billions in military and civilian 
aid to Ukraine.

   The 30 NATO leaders meeting in Madrid will hear directly from Ukrainian 
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is likely to ask them to do even more when 
he addresses the gathering by video link. And NATO Secretary-General Jens 
Stoltenberg acknowledged the alliance is "in the midst of the most serious 
security crisis we have faced since the Second World War."

   U.S. President Joe Biden, whose country provides the bulk of NATO's military 
power, said the summit would send "an unmistakable message ... that NATO is 
strong and united."

   "We're stepping up. We're proving that NATO is more needed now than it ever 
has been," said Biden. He announced a hefty boost in America's military 
presence in Europe, including a permanent U.S. base in Poland, two more Navy 
destroyers based in Rota, Spain, and two more F35 squadrons to the U.K.

   But strains among NATO allies have also emerged as the cost of energy and 
other essential goods has skyrocketed, partly because of the the war and tough 
Western sanctions on Russia. There also are tensions over how the war will end 
and what, if any, concessions Ukraine should make to stop the fighting.

   Money could also be a sensitive issue -- just nine of NATO's 30 members 
currently meet the organization's target of spending 2% of gross domestic 
product on defense.

   British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose country does hit the target, 
urged NATO allies "to dig deep to restore deterrence and ensure defense in the 
decade ahead."

   The war has already triggered a big increase in NATO's forces in eastern 
Europe, and allies are expected to agree at the summit to boost the strength of 
the alliance's rapid reaction force nearly eightfold, from 40,000 to 300,000 
troops, by next year. The troops will be based in their home nations, but 
dedicated to specific countries on NATO's eastern flank, where the alliance 
plans to build up stocks of equipment and ammunition.

   Stoltenberg said NATO was undertaking "the biggest overhaul of our 
collective defense since the end of the Cold War."

   The leaders are also set to publish NATO's new Strategic Concept, its 
once-a-decade set of priorities and goals.

   The last such document, in 2010, called Russia a "strategic partner." Now, 
the alliance is set to declare Moscow its No. 1 threat. The document will also 
set out NATO's approach on issues from cybersecurity to climate change -- and 
the growing economic and military reach of China.

   For the first time, the leaders of Japan, Australia, South Korea and New 
Zealand are attending the summit as guests, a reflection of the growing 
importance of Asia and the Pacific region.

   Stoltenberg said China was not NATO's adversary, but posed "challenges to 
our values, to our interest and to our security."

   Biden was due to hold a rare meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio 
Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on the sidelines of the 
summit, focused on North Korea's nuclear program.

   The summit opened with one problem solved, after Turkey agreed Tuesday to 
lift its opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO. In response to the 
invasion, the two Nordic nations abandoned their long-held nonaligned status 
and applied to join NATO as protection against an increasingly aggressive and 
unpredictable Russia -- which shares a long border with Finland.

   NATO operates by consensus, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan 
threatened to block the Nordic pair, insisting they change their stance on 
Kurdish rebel groups that Turkey considers terrorists.

   After urgent top-level talks with leaders of the three countries, alliance 
Secretary Stoltenberg said the impasse had been cleared.

   Turkey hailed Tuesday's agreement as a triumph, saying the Nordic nations 
had agreed to crack down on groups that Ankara deems national security threats, 
including the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which is also considered a terrorist 
group by the U.S. and the EU, and its Syrian extension. It said they also 
agreed "not to impose embargo restrictions in the field of defense industry" on 
Turkey and to take "concrete steps on the extradition of terrorist criminals."

   Stoltenberg said leaders of the 30-nation alliance will issue a formal 
invitation Wednesday to the two countries to join. The decision has to be 
ratified by all individual nations, but he said he was "absolutely confident" 
Finland and Sweden would become members.

   Stoltenberg said he expected the process to be finished "rather quickly," 
but did not set a time on it.

 
 
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