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German Defense Minister Calls U.S. Demands For Increased NATO Spending 'Fair'

FILE: German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (2-L) takes a tour of the Camp Marmal in Mazar-e Sharif in December 2015.
FILE: German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (2-L) takes a tour of the Camp Marmal in Mazar-e Sharif in December 2015.

Germany's defense minister said that U.S. demands that NATO partners increase defense spending are "fair," while her U.S. counterpart praised Germany's role in fighting the war in Afghanistan.

Ursula von der Leyen said Germany, which spends far less than NATO's target of 2 percent of economic output on defense, understands that it needs to increase spending.

"It's a fair demand," von der Leyen said after meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis in Washington on February 10. "If we want to jointly master the crises in the world, namely the fight against terrorism, and also put the alliance on solid footing, then everyone has to pay their share."

Von der Leyen, referring to Russia, said it was critical that NATO members remained unified. She said she and Mattis agreed that many global problems, including the war in Syria, cannot be solved without Russia, but at the same time Moscow needs to respect international law and the borders of other sovereign countries.

They agreed it was important to "continue to act from a position of strength to extend an outstretched hand to Russia and work out our mutual problems at the negotiating table," she said.

Mattis, who as a former Marine general and head of U.S. Central Command oversaw the war in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013, said he has the "highest regard" for German forces there.

"The leadership, the maturity, the ethical performance by your troops has been an example for others," he told von der Leyen, wearing a pin on his lapel with the U.S. and German flags.

Mattis said he was "doing a lot of listening" in his first weeks as defense secretary, alluding to concerns raised by European allies publicly and privately about statements by U.S. President Donald Trump that NATO has grown "obsolete."

Mattis has literally circled the world from East Asia to Europe since taking office to reassure allies that the United States remains committed to its long-standing military compacts.

"It's always easier to sit on the outside as a critical observer," Mattis said. "It's much more difficult when you're confronted with the difficult choices that you in responsible positions have had to deal with."

With reporting by AP, dpa, and Reuters

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