U.S., French defense chiefs meet amid questions over NATO commitment
19 Mar 2019, 12:58
U.S. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan on Monday met with French Defense Minister Florence Parly amidst Paris' increasing questions over the U.S. commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
According to a statement issued by the Pentagon's acting spokesperson Charles E. Summers Jr., Shanahan and Parly met at the Pentagon to reaffirm the defense relationship and discuss "a broad range of defense issues," including U.S. commitment to the long-term destruction of the Islamic State (IS) group and "continuing commitment to leading the global D-ISIS coalition."
They "agreed to continue working together as coalition partners to address security and stability in northeast Syria," the statement read.
However, the AFP quoted Parly as saying also on Monday that "a question mark has emerged" over the transatlantic alliance.
Noting Washington's "current atmosphere of withdrawal: withdrawal from battlefields, from treaties, from trade pacts," she said in the Atlantic Council, a U.S. think tank, that efforts need to be made in "building a European autonomy" as that question remains unanswered.
Some European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have mentioned the establishment of "a true European army" which was criticized by U.S. President Donald Trump as "very insulting."
"What Europeans are worried about is this: Will the U.S. commitment be perennial?" Parly asked. "The alliance should be unconditional, otherwise it is not an alliance."
However, the French minister said in Washington that building a European autonomy was not "a move against the U.S.," adding that "we want America solidly steeped in NATO."
The U.S.-led multinational coalition has been engaged in an operation to drive out the IS militants from their last stronghold in the Euphrates region in eastern Syria.
In December, Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, citing that the local IS force has been largely defeated. However, U.S. media reported last month that the U.S. military would leave about 400 troops in Syria.
CNN quoted a U.S. official as saying on Sunday that the U.S. plan "was to have a combined force of about 1,500 troops overall to ensure the safe zone in northern Syria," but the allies made "no firm pledges" to increase military engagement there so far, thus "the U.S. level would have to go up."