NATO would seek early summit with Biden, if elected, envoys say


FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden meets NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) during the 51st Munich Security Conference at the 'Bayerischer Hof' hotel in Munich February 7, 2015. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle/File Photo

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The NATO military alliance is considering a summit in March in Brussels to welcome a new U.S. president if Democrat candidate Joe Biden wins, diplomats and officials said, with a gathering in the first half of next year if Donald Trump is reelected.

While the U.S.-led alliance agreed last year to hold a summit in 2021, a meeting in the spring would be an early chance to repair transatlantic ties if Biden were to be voted into the White House on Nov. 3, after a bruising four years under Trump.

Trump has said that the Western alliance is "obsolete" and some allies are "delinquent" as well as issuing a veiled threat in July 2018 to pull the United States out of the alliance.

He also announced his intention earlier this year to cut the U.S. troop contingent in Germany, faulting Berlin for failing to meet NATO's defence spending target and accusing it of taking advantage of the United States on trade.

Biden, who leads in opinion polls, is seen in Europe as offering a shift in U.S. policy away from Trump's 'America First' agenda, which has undermined European priorities on issues from climate to the Iran nuclear deal.

"Most allies want a Biden victory next month, but they would obviously work with a reelected Trump administration," one diplomat at NATO's Brussels headquarters said.

A March summit "would give Biden a platform to bring Europe and North America back together and also give NATO a chance to put the Trump era behind it," a second diplomat said.

Two officials echoed that statement. They and the two diplomats also said that if Trump were reelected, NATO would seek to hold a summit in early summer, but that there was less urgency because he had already attended NATO summits and his position was seen as likely to harden.

The now 30-member North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which was created in 1949 to confront the threat of the communist Soviet Union, declined to comment.

COVID-19

NATO summits, with their pomp and gravitas, have traditionally been the setting for the nuclear-armed alliance to showcase its unity and agree new political and military goals in its long stand-off with Russia.

In a potential twist of fate, any NATO summit next year is likely to hear the results of a report commissioned in 2019 on reforms to the alliance, after Trump questioned its relevance.

Any summit plans would have to consider coronavirus pandemic restrictions that have complicated in-person gatherings of government leaders, diplomats said. Last week, three leaders were forced to leave a European Union summit in Brussels because of COVID-19 infection risks.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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