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NATO Chief Says Alliance Must 'Step Up' After Manchester Attack

NATO Chief Says Leaders Will Focus On Terrorism And Funding
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BRUSSELS -- NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said the "brutal" bombing in the British city of Manchester shows that the alliance must agree at a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump to do more to combat terrorism.

The fight against terrorism will be top of the agenda at the May 25 meeting in Brussels, a stop on Trump's first trip abroad since he took office in January.

"I expect NATO allies to step up and agree to do more in the fight against terrorism, not least because of the attack we saw in Manchester," Stoltenberg told a news conference on May 24.

The Islamic State (IS) extremist group claimed responsibility for the May 22 attack, in which a suspected suicide bomber set off explosives as concertgoers were leaving Manchester Arena after watching American pop singer Ariana Grande perform.

The blast killed 22 people and injured about 60 others. Many of the victims were children, including an 8-year-old girl who was among the dead.

Stoltenberg said the "brutal attack" showed that the threat of terrorism remained ever present.

"We are still discussing whether NATO should become a full member of the global coalition," Stoltenberg said, referring to a 68-member U.S.-led coalition whose goal is to defeat IS.

However, diplomats from NATO members, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL the alliance was expected to decide to join the coalition --- which is fighting IS militants in Iraq and Syria -- on May 25.

Twenty-three of the global coalition's 68 partners have over 9,000 troops in Iraq and Syria in support of the effort to defeat the IS group, while its air assets have conducted more than 19,000 strikes on IS targets.

Trump, who arrived in Brussels on May 24, called NATO "obsolete" during the U.S. presidential campaign last year, saying it was not doing enough to fight terrorism. He has also chided some members for not following NATO guidelines to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense.

He has since softened his criticism, but maintains that NATO should join the anti-IS coalition itself.

All 28 allies have joined the coalition as individual countries, but Stoltenberg said that if NATO became a member, it would significantly boost coordination in the war against IS in Syria and Iraq.

It would also send "a strong message of unity...and especially in light of the attack in Manchester, I think it is important to send this message of unity against terrorism," Stoltenberg said.

"Many allies would like to see NATO as a full member of the coalition," he said.

NATO currently provides AWACS surveillance planes to help anti-IS operations and trains officers in Iraq, but it stresses that these are and should remain noncombat roles.

"I expect we will agree to expand our AWACS support for the coalition," Stoltenberg said.

"I also welcome that several allies have committed air-to-air refueling capabilities for NATO AWACS supporting the coalition."

While the attacks in Manchester will be on the minds of many attending the NATO meeting, Russia and how to engage it will be lurking right behind, according to James Appathurai, NATO deputy assistant secretary-general for political affairs.

"I think the general feeling is that we have a pretty good balance, to have a strong position of deterrence and defense, to engage with Russia or try to on the basis of strengths, and also to help the other countries in Europe to preserve their political independence and territory integrity," Appathurai told RFE/RL in an interview on May 24. "Ukraine and Georgia being obvious examples, and I think that's why Ukraine will come up."

With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels, AFP, and Reuters