NEWPORT, Wales— President Barack Obama, after levying sharp criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin and promising decisive action against the Islamic State, is working to take advantage of growing international uneasiness to rally NATO into action.
In a series of official and sideline meetings Thursrday at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Wales, Mr. Obama pressed U.S. allies to bolster their defense capabilities and make commitments to counter the Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He will carry that message into a meeting today on the future of NATO.
“This is a summit where NATO really has to do some reflection of the new realities and adapt,” Doug Lute, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, said in a briefing Thursday night.
The NATO summit has served as an opportunity for Mr. Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron to harden the alliance’s stance in confronting Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, as well as in the new battle with Islamic State extremists. Mr. Obama is pushing other NATO members to increase defense spending, which has lagged throughout Europe in recent years, to commit to a new rapid response force and to identify ways that each can support an international effort against the Islamic State.
For Mr. Obama, the timing of the annual NATO summit has created an opportunity to both reassure and pressure European nations that, according to administration officials, have grown increasingly jittery about Mr. Putin’s intentions and the global threat posed by the Islamic State. With NATO’s more than 11-year commitment to Afghanistan coming to an end, the response to those new threats has come to the forefront.
“As that mission winds down, this is a step back and a reflection and a diagnosis of opportunities for the alliance, because it faces new challenges,” Mr. Lute said.
Mr. Obama’s push for international commitments has become a primary focus as he faces criticism from both political parties in Washington that he hasn’t laid out a comprehensive strategy to address international crises. He also is confronted by continued questions about when -- or if -- he will expand U.S. air strikes against the Islamic State into Syria from Iraq.
In a meeting Thursday with Mr. Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Mr. Obama and the other leaders agreed “on the need for Russia to face increased costs for its actions,” according to Ben Rhodes, Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser.
That agreement came the day after Mr. Obama, during a speech in Estonia, castigated Mr. Putin for his seizure of Crimea and his incursion into eastern Ukraine.