Luis Ramirez, Voice of America
It is being called the most critical NATO summit since the end of the Cold War.
U.S. President Barack Obama began two days of crucial meetings in Warsaw Friday with Brexit at the top of his agenda and concerns of what the departure of NATO's other heavy-hitter, Britain, from the EU will mean for the security alliance.
The United States has “strong and enduring interest” in a united Europe and everyone has an interest in “minimizing disruptions” as the EU and Britain “forge a new relationship,” Obama said Friday after meeting with EU leaders at the start of the NATO summit.
The U.S. leader sought to offer reassurances to European leaders as anxiety grows on the continent over the future of European integration after Brexit.
“I am absolutely confident that the UK and European Union will work in a pragmatic fashion to ensure that the transition is orderly and smooth,” Obama said. “We cannot lose sight of the achievement” that European integration has made, he said, noting that no EU member has ever raised arms against another. Obama said those are “achievements that have to be preserved.”
Highlighting U.S. concern over Britain’s decision to leave the EU, Obama’s meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk and the European Council’s Jean-Claude Juncker was his first after arriving in Warsaw Friday.
But on the official agenda it was Russia and what U.S. officials describe as its more assertive, more aggressive actions on NATO’s eastern flank that is dominating the two-day discussions.
As Russia, NATO’s most militarily capable neighbor, continues to arm and show no sign of ending its involvement in Ukraine, U.S. officials see a growing potential threat to NATO countries that were once part of the Soviet empire.
Washington sees this as a crucial time to forge a cohesive response that for the first time in a quarter century will focus not on reassurance, but on deterrence.
“From NATO’s perspective, this summit comes at a real demarcation point, or an inflection point, in the now almost 70-year history of the Alliance,” said Doug Lute, the U.S. ambassador to NATO.
For the first time in NATO’s history, it has a 13,000 troop high-readiness force, currently based in Spain – President Obama’s next stop.
At the summit, leaders are adding what Lute describes as a “modest” force of four NATO battalions in the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and in Poland. The U.S. has announced it will lead one of those battalions.
President Obama began the day Friday addressing domestic concerns: the killings of five police officers by snipers in Dallas. The U.S. leader called a "vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement" and said "We are horrified."