Obama rallies NATO on two fronts

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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.


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