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NATO Chief On President Trump's U.N. General Assembly Address


It was quite a moment when President Trump took the stage in New York earlier this week. The America-First president addressed world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly, and he was all about national sovereignty. Jens Stoltenberg was among those listening closely. He is secretary-general of NATO, and he joins us now from New York, where he is attending the U.N. General Assembly.

Mr. Secretary-General, welcome back to the program.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you so much for having me.

KELLY: We are glad to have you with us. There are a number of matters I want to get your take on, but let's start by listening to this key line from President Trump's U.N. speech.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: As president of the United States, I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries, will always and should always put your countries first.

KELLY: Jens Stoltenberg, what went through your mind as the leader of NATO, leader of one of the world's long-standing multilateral alliances, listening there to the American president say America First?

STOLTENBERG: He has stated this very clearly before. At the same time, you know, he has also stated clearly that he is a strong supporter of a strong NATO. And he also expressed support to the U.N., but he actually called for the U.N. to reform. I strongly believe that in times of turmoil, of uncertainty, then we need strong international institutions like the U.N. and like NATO. But at the same time, these organizations have to adapt to change, to respond to a changing world.

And I'm glad to see that NATO has adapted and we are in the process of transforming. And I welcome all efforts also to try to reform the U.N. because we need these kind of institutions to address the big challenges of the time.

KELLY: So you take no offense at the phrase America First?

STOLTENBERG: Well, that has been his message since he was elected. And NATO's an alliance of 29 democracies where different political leaders are elected with different programs and different views on many issues. But the great thing with NATO is that we have, despite these differences, always been able to agree on the core task - that we stand together, that we protect each other and that we are stronger together in the alliance than alone.

KELLY: Well, and - this is kind of what I would expect to hear you say, I have to say. But is an America-First agenda at odds in any way with the spirit of the alliance, with the spirit of an alliance that is all about mutual defense, mutual cooperation?

STOLTENBERG: But I have seen that the president and the U.S. has been able to both express this message of America First but at the same time be very committed to NATO - not only words, that - it has been stated (unintelligible) by the U.S. president, by security team many times but also in deeds.

The U.S. is now increasing their military presence in Europe for the first time since the end of the Cold War. So action speaks louder than words. And I welcome the strong U.S. commitment to NATO, which we see in praxis.

KELLY: Another moment from the president's speech was where he talked about Iran. He talked about the nuclear deal and called it the worst, most one-sided deal the U.S. has ever entered. If the U.S. were to walk away from that deal - we don't know yet what the president will decide. But if the U.S. does, what would be the security consequences for the NATO alliance?

STOLTENBERG: Well, I think now the focus has to be on implementation of the Iranian deal. And no deal is a good deal if it's not implemented. And therefore, I welcome that the foreign ministers from all the nations behind the Iran deal met yesterday. It was a difficult meeting, but at least they discussed - they sat down around the table.

KELLY: These were the meetings that were unfolding yesterday at the United Nations with, for example, President Rouhani of Iran.


KELLY: Let me turn you to another subject, which is Afghanistan. We have heard the new strategy laid out by the Trump administration, which involves adding a few thousand additional troops. As the U.S. increases troops, will other NATO members as well?

STOLTENBERG: Yes. We have all agreed that we will increase the troop levels with a few thousand. Around half of the NATO forces in Afghanistan are non-U.S. troops from Europe and other partner nations. We're not going to change the mandate for our presence in Afghanistan. It's not a combat operation anymore. But we train, assist and advise the Afghans, enabling them to stabilize their own country themselves.

KELLY: And what about an exit strategy? As you know, the U.S. has left its troop commitment open-ended. Is there an exit date for the troops being sent by other member states in NATO?

STOLTENBERG: What we have decided now is to not have a fixed date for when to leave. We have made it a condition-based mission. At the same time, we have significantly reduced our presence in Afghanistan from more than 100,000 to now around 16,000 in next year.

KELLY: OK. Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary-General.


KELLY: That's Jens Stoltenberg joining us from New York City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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