Defense Secretary James Mattis on Wednesday hailed NATO as a “fundamental bedrock” in his first alliance meeting since taking the helm of the Pentagon.
“The alliance remains a fundamental bedrock for the United States and for all the transatlantic community,” Mattis said at the start of talks between the alliance’s defense ministers.
The brief remarks made no reference to the turmoil going on back home surrounding Trump administration and campaign aides’ relations with Russia.
President Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned Monday night after it was revealed he spoke with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. prior to the inauguration and misled top White House officials about the contents of the conversation.
On Tuesday, Mattis brushed aside the resignation as having “no impact” on the NATO meeting.
The New York Times and CNN also reported Tuesday night that Trump campaign aides were in repeated contact with Russian officials during the campaign.
President Trump’s stated desire to improve relations with Moscow has rattled NATO allies, who view Russian President Vladimir Putin as a destabilizing force who is making increasingly aggressive moves in Europe.
NATO members have also been shaken by Trump repeatedly calling NATO “obsolete” during the presidential campaign and questioning whether he would come to the defense of allies under attack if they didn’t shoulder more of the cost of their defense.
Mattis said Wednesday that Trump has “strong support” for NATO. But he did bring Trump’s message of allies needing to spend more on defense.
“It's a fair demand that all who benefit from the best defense in the world carry their proportionate share of the necessary cost to defend freedom,” he said.