EU defence pact irks Washington

EU defence pact irks Washington
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Brussels:NATO defence ministers met in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss Washington's concerns over the European Union's new plans to deepen defence ties between its members, and increasingly strained US-Turkey relations.

Washington and Ankara, two of the transatlantic alliance's most important members, are at loggerheads over Turkey's military offensive in northern Syria. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday warned it was detracting from the fight against the Islamic State group.

The two-day meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels is expected to approve changes to the alliance's command structure.

It aims to meet the challenges of warfare in the 21st century, particularly cyber attacks and other novel "hybrid warfare" tactics, as fears grow about Russian assertiveness.

But a working dinner with EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini later Wednesday has taken on greater significance after senior US officials voiced fears about the impact the bloc's new landmark defence pact could have on the balance of power in NATO.

The EU's so-called permanent structured cooperation on defence agreement, known as PESCO, has projects in view already to develop new military equipment and improve cooperation and decision-making.

But on Sunday a senior official working with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Washington had concerns that some of the proposed initiatives risked "pulling resources or capabilities away from NATO".

Despite the concerns of the United States, the alliance's most powerful member, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the right balance could be struck.

"Done in the right way, these efforts can make a contribution to fairer burden-sharing between Europe and North America," Stoltenberg told reporters as he arrived for talks with NATO defence ministers on Wednesday.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly urged allies to increase their share of spending to ease Washington's burden.

On Tuesday Stoltenberg said the EU's efforts to boost its defence spending under the pact were welcome, but only if they were coordinated with NATO plans. He warned there was "no way" the EU could replace the transatlantic alliance in guaranteeing European security.

"It will be absolutely without any meaning if NATO and the EU start to compete," the former Norwegian premier told reporters.

"European allies are absolutely aware that the defence, the protection of Europe is dependent on NATO."APP/AFP

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