NATO pledges money to help Ukraine, meets Friday on new bases

McClatchy Washington BureauSeptember 4, 2014 

Britain NATO Summit

U.S. President Barack Obama, center right, stands with NATO heads of state and government including Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, front right, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, center left, and British Prime Minister David Cameron, left, as they pose for a group photo prior to a NATO summit dinner at Cardiff Castle in Cardiff, Wales on Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)


— The U.S. and its European allies plan another round of sanctions against Russia if President Vladimir Putin doesn’t withdraw thousands of troops from Ukraine.

The threat of additional economic punishments came as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko met Thursday with NATO leaders here to discuss the alliance’s response to Russian incursions.

NATO member nations pledged 15 million euros _ about $19 million _ to boost Ukraine’s security, and U.S. officials said they expected more announcements Friday on NATO plans for new bases in Eastern Europe to provide a speedier response to Russian aggression.

Representatives of Kiev, Moscow and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe are scheduled to meet Friday in Minsk to discuss a potential cease-fire offered by Putin. Poroshenko said he’s cautiously optimistic about the talks.

NATO leaders were skeptical about the outcome. “While talking about peace, Russia has not made one single step to make peace possible,” said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

The White House is coordinating with the European Council to impose another round of sanctions if the talks don’t work out, said Ben Rhodes, a deputy White House national security adviser. He noted that the leaders agreed there need “to be additional costs imposed on Russia for what it’s done in Ukraine.”

He would not elaborate on which areas the administration would seek to target in what would be the latest in a series of sanctions that White House officials say are straining the Russian economy but have yet to convince Putin to change course.

Some in Congress have called on the administration to step up its response and provide weapons to Ukraine, including Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman who recently returned from a trip to Ukraine and Iraq and called it “very much in our interest” to provide weapons.

The White House has been wary of providing weapons to Ukraine to fight the Russian-backed separatists.

The NATO summit in the south of Wales was to have focused on the scheduled withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan by the close of the year, but that became a side issue as the Islamic State threat and Russia’s incursion took center stage.

President Barack Obama discussed international support for an offensive against the Islamic State in meetings with NATO allies such as British Prime Minister David Cameron, and other leaders including King Abdullah of Jordan. He will meet Friday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Obama and Cameron vowed Thursday to confront the Islamic State, saying they “will not be cowed” by the militants who have slain two American journalists and threatened the life of a British captive. They appeared to endorse an enhanced role for NATO against the extremist group in an article for The Times of London but offered no details.

NATO has not received any request from Iraq to fight the Islamic State, but any such request would be “considered seriously,” Rasmussen told reporters outside the summit.

Rhodes wouldn’t say whether Obama asked for support for military strikes. “The president discussed the range of different tools it is going to take to confront ISIL,” he said, using the preferred U.S. government acronym for the group.

The U.S. has launched 127 airstrikes in Iraq against Islamic State militants, but Obama has yet to say whether he will pursue strikes against them in neighboring Syria.

The alliance took a moment at the start of the event to honor soldiers who served in the 13-year war in Afghanistan, NATO’s biggest and longest-ever military deployment. Douglas Lute, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, said the close of the deployment is giving the alliance an opportunity to redefine its mission and is “looking in more than one direction at a time,” with new threats from Russia and Middle East-based terrorists.

NATO is “proud of what we achieved” in Afghanistan and ready to move onto a new mission of training and advising Afghan forces, Rasmussen said.

But the effort is complicated by the unresolved Afghanistan presidential election and a lack of an agreement to keep such forces in the country.

Rasmussen said he’s urging the presidential candidates to complete the election as soon as possible, adding that the two competing candidates agreed to do so in a letter to NATO officials.

“We need to know very soon whether the necessary security arrangements will be signed by the Afghan government,” Rasmussen said, calling it a prerequisite for a continued NATO presence in Afghanistan.

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