‘NATO plus ME’: Trump proposes NATO expansion into Middle East

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US President Donald Trump says Middle East nations should be members of NATO | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

US president stressed the value of increasing the military alliance’s role in preventing conflict and preserving peace in the region.

President Donald Trump on Thursday proposed expanding NATO’s membership to include Middle Eastern nations in light of recent U.S. tensions in the region with Iran.

The president’s suggestion came one day after he issued a vague call for more NATO involvement in the Middle East.

In an unrelated event at the White House on Thursday, Trump discussed his phone call the day before with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who Trump described as “excited” about the prospect of a Middle East expansion.

“I think that NATO should be expanded, and we should include the Middle East. Absolutely,” the president told reporters, arguing that North Atlantic military alliance should take over for the U.S. in the region “because this is an international problem.”

“And we can come home, or largely come home and use NATO,” he continued, portraying such a move as a trade-off for Washington’s leading role in eliminating the Islamic State’s physical caliphate. “It’s an international problem. We caught ISIS. We did Europe a big favor.”

Over the weekend, NATO had announced a temporary suspension to its anti-ISIS training mission in Iraq, in the aftermath of a U.S. drone attack that took out Iran’s top military commander Qassem Soleimani.

The strike, which the U.S. has said was a defensive measure and aimed at disrupting an unnamed “imminent threat” from Iran, led Tehran to retaliate Tuesday night against bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops. Trump then sought to dial back tensions on Wednesday in a nationally televised address, where he revealed plans to ask NATO to “become much more involved in the Middle East process.”

He spoke with Stoltenberg later in the day, and “emphasized the value of NATO increasing its role in preventing conflict and preserving peace in the Middle East,” according to the White House.

According to a NATO readout of the conversation, Stoltenberg and Trump “agreed that NATO could contribute more to regional stability and the fight against international terrorism. They also agreed to stay in close contact on the issue.”

The president did not clarify which Middle Eastern nations he would want to invite into NATO, the mutual-defense alliance created during the Cold War chiefly as an impediment to Russian aggression. NATO’s membership, which has grown from its original 12 members to its current total of 29, is comprised entirely in North American and European nations, plus Turkey, which is partially located in Asia.

At the White House Thursday, Trump revealed how much thought he’d been putting into the issue, debuting his ideal name for the new initiative.

“NATO, right, and then you have M-E, Middle East,” he told reporters excitedly, writing in the air with his fingers. “You call it NATO-ME. What a beautiful name. I’m good at names.”

The president, who has often boasted about his branding prowess, suggested that it would catch on like the abbreviation for the renegotiated trade deal with Mexico and Canada, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

“USMCA, like the song “YMCA,’” Trump exclaimed. “No one could remember it, USMCA. I said, think of the song: ‘YMCA.’ Now everybody says it.”

Returning to the matter at hand, he explained: “No, uh, if you add the two words, Middle East, at the end of it, because that’s a big problem. That’s a big source of problems. And NATO-ME, doesn’t that work beautifully Jon? ‘NATO’ plus ‘ME.’”

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