With crises boiling over in Ukraine and Syria, the Sunni jihadist offensive in northern Iraq has added new urgency to an already packed NATO agenda, with ministers also due to discuss efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan.
“As everybody knows this is a very critical time for Iraq,” Kerry warned in Arbil Tuesday as he met with Kurdish leaders to discuss the onslaught by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
His talks came as the first of up to 300 US military advisers began their mission in Baghdad to help the Iraqi army, which has wilted in face of the militants’ seizure of a swathe of northern Iraq.
Kerry briefed European allies from Germany, France, Italy and Britain on his trip “to Baghdad and Arbil and expressed strong concern about the threat posed by ISIL,” Psaki said.
He also attended a dinner of foreign ministers from the 28-member alliance.
US President Barack Obama announced earlier this month that the US will scale back its troops in Afghanistan to 9,800 before withdrawing them completely by the end of 2016.
That will shape plans by other NATO members who have forces in Afghanistan on how many troops to leave in the country, with a top US official predicting a total force of around 12,000.
But NATO’s formal meetings, which open Wednesday, are set to be “very, very focused on the situation in Ukraine,” the official told reporters.
The ministers would discuss the implementation of the Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko’s peace plan, “the ceasefire efforts, and also efforts to negotiate with eastern players,” the official said, asking not to be named.
The White House on Tuesday welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s call to his lawmakers to revoke his authorization to invade Ukraine.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest, however, said Washington, which has threatened further sanctions on Moscow, wanted to see clear evidence of a change in Russian behavior.
The usual NATO-Russia meeting has been cancelled because of the unrest in eastern Ukraine, blamed on Moscow by the West. And Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is not attending.
Instead Kerry will have his first bilateral meeting with new Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin.
Ukraine is also asking for extra support from NATO as it seeks to quell the self-defense forces who are controlling some parts of eastern Ukraine.
“Ukraine has traditionally been one of NATO’s most active partners. It’s contributed to every single NATO mission. And now Ukraine is asking for allied support as it seeks to rebuild its own security forces in the wake of events,” the US official told reporters.
Kerry will Thursday hold back-to-back meetings with Gulf allies in Paris to brief them on his talks in Iraq and discuss the bloody three-year war in Syria.
He will meet Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, UAE top diplomat Abdullah bin Zayed and his Jordanian counterpart Nasser Judeh, a second senior State Department official said.
The top US diplomat will also hold talks with Israeli Avigdor Lieberman to be briefed about the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank nearly two weeks ago.
Conflict in Ukraine, relations with Russia, situation in Afghanistan and preparation for the September summit of NATO in Wales will be the main themes of the scheduled meeting of foreign ministers of 28 member countries of NATO in the Belgian capital. Tonight ministers will gather for a working dinner. The main day of multilateral negotiations will be June 25, according to TASS reports.
Ministers will talk about the situation in Ukraine on Wednesday during the plenary session, which will give estimates of recent changes in this country. Discussion will continue at a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine together with the new head of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Pavel Klimkin, which they expect will inform them about the President Poroshenko’s peace plan. Discussing the security situation, NATO Foreign Ministers will review the effectiveness of measures already taken by the alliance to promote Kiev and determine further steps in this direction.
In particular, a political decision is expected to be made regarding the establishment of trust fund to support Ukraine’s defense capability. At the same time, according to NATO representatives, NATO, as a military-political bloc, does not consider providing direct military assistance to Kiev, as the alliance does not have its own arms and the question of their supply is the sole responsibility of each member state separately.
Ministers will discuss relations with Russian during working lunch. On Monday representatives at the alliance headquarters stated that they have no intentions to “unfreeze” relations with Russia at the moment, which got escalated due to the conflict in Ukraine.
During their meeting in April, Foreign Ministers, under the pretext of the Ukrainian crisis announced the suspension of military complex and civilian cooperation, except meetings of the NATO-Russia Council / NRC / “at the ambassadorial level and above.”
According to NATO, foreign ministers will discuss the implications of Russia’s policy towards Ukraine in terms of European security. With Ukrainian crisis, North Atlantic Alliance, claiming support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, decided directly not to intervene in the situation in the country, and at the same time to implement measures to strengthen the collective defense of the Eastern European member states, both in the air, on land and sea.
Thus, up to 12 fighters are now involved in the mission of patrolling the airspace of the Baltic countries. NATO has also involved “AWACS” aircraft over the territory of Poland and Romania. Four French fighters strengthened military presence in Poland.
Besides, the Alliance has deployed warships in the Black and Baltic Seas. A number of large-scale land exercises have begun near the Russian borders. NATO Secretary General said that, in case of aggravation of the crisis in Ukraine, the alliance could “reconsider its military plans for collective defense of the Member States.”
In the context of Ukrainian events, ministers will consider a “comprehensive and ambitious” plan for the future development of the North Atlantic Alliance, which implies “strengthen its power,” and a willingness to respond rapidly to crises. This program will have to be approved by the Heads of State and Government of 28 NATO member countries at a summit in early September in Wales. In addition, leaders plan to endorse a declaration in support of strengthening partnerships with the European Union on the political and military levels, which also requires the prior approval of the foreign ministers.
The ministers will discuss the situation in Afghanistan on the eve of July 22 of the announcement of the final results of the presidential election in this country. They will also discuss the status of forces agreements of the US and NATO in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of combat units by the end of this year.
It is possible that, although this issue is not on the agenda, the Foreign Minister will consider the situation in Iraq with the suggestion of the American side. The official representative of the alliance Oana Lungescu therefore stated that she had not yet received a request from the Iraqi government for assistance in dealing with the Islamists, saying that, NATO currently has a small training mission in Iraq, which will expire soon.