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BERLIN (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stressed Friday the need for traditional Western allies to work together to face modern threats, while at the same time defending Trump administration policies on tariffs, NATO spending and other issues that have raised the ire of traditional friends.
On the final day of a two-day visit focused on events marking the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Pompeo told guests at the Koerber Stiftung think-tank that the West was wrong to think that "free societies would flourish everywhere" after the end of communism.
He singled out Russian President Vladimir Putin as "a former KGB officer stationed in Dresden" whose country "invades its neighbors and slays political opponents," and said the Chinese Communist Party "uses tactics and methods to suppress its own people that would be horrifyingly familiar to former East Germans."
"We have a duty, each of us, to use all we have to defend what was so hard-won in 1776, in 1945 and in 1989," Pompeo told the crowd, referring to the American revolution, the end of World War II and the fall of the Berlin Wall. "And we have to do it together because it's not easy and doing it alone is impossible."
On the heels of comments from French President Emmanuel Macron that the lack of U.S. leadership is causing the "brain death" of NATO, Pompeo defended the need for the alliance and elaborated on past comments from President Donald Trump calling it "obsolete."
Trump has been aggressively pushing for NATO members to live up to commitments to spend 2% of their annual gross domestic product on defense. He has singled out Germany specifically as one country not contributing enough.
"If it doesn't do the things it needs to do to confront the challenges of today in a way that's effective, if nations believe that they can get the security benefit without providing NATO with the resources that it needs, if they don't live up to their commitments, there's a risk that NATO could become ineffective or obsolete," he said.
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has suggested Germany would meet the 2% goal by 2031, which Pompeo said he was "happy" to hear.
He told the audience that other Trump administration policies, like its decision to increase pressure on Iran through new sanctions, its opposition to Chinese participation in the building of 5G telecommunications networks, and its opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project to bring natural gas directly to Germany from Russia, were part of a commitment to defending freedoms.
"That is why the United States makes the tough case on Nord Stream 2," he said. "We don't want Europe's energy supplies to depend on Putin's whims. This is why we ask more of NATO allies, because western, free nations have a responsibility to deter threats to our people and we're stronger together."
When pressed on why the administration has imposed tariffs on traditional allies, which have hit European Union steel, aluminum and agricultural products, Pompeo suggested the U.S. had been unfairly targeted by European regulations.
Europe has responded with its own tariffs on American goods.
"President Trump has been very clear our ideal trade relationship with the European Union would be to have no tariffs ... no non-tariff barriers either, no hiding behind some regulatory framework," he said.
"We want increased trade with Europe, we want increased trade with India, but we want it to be conducted in a way that is consistent with the history of free trade around the world where we join together and we don't try and protect our own industries."