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NATO Warsaw Summit Tackles Threat from Russia in East, ISIS in South

President Obama joined a NATO summit Friday that faced issues including a rearmed Russia to the east and violent Islamic extremism to the south.
Image: Obama delivers remarks to reporters after meeting with Duda at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland
President Obama talks to reporters in Warsaw Friday.JONATHAN ERNST / Reuters

WARSAW, Poland — President Obama joined other leaders of the NATO military alliance in Poland Friday to order ambitious actions against a daunting array of security threats - including a rearmed and increasingly unfriendly Russia to Europe's east and violent Islamic extremism to the south.

"The decisions we're going to take together will once again confirm that Europe and North America stand together, act together to support all allies against any threats," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, predicting a "landmark summit.”

After arriving in Warsaw, Obama announced the U.S. will send an additional 1,000 U.S. troops to Poland as part of a NATO effort to reinforce its presence on the alliance's frontiers near Russia. He met with Polish President Andrzej Duda, and hailed Poland as "a lynchpin in the defense of NATO's eastern flank."

Image: Barack Obama
President Obama joins the NATO leaders' "family" photo in Warsaw, Friday.Susan Walsh / AP

In an op-ed published in the Financial Times, Obama called on NATO to stand firm against Russia, terrorism and other challenges, and to "summon the political will, and make concrete commitments" to strengthen European cooperation after the British people's vote in June to leave the European Union.

Stoltenberg said for NATO's 28 member nations to be safe, they don't only need to reinforce their own armed forces, but to come to the aid of partner nations in the Middle East and North Africa menaced by extremist violence.

"For our nations to be safe, it's not enough to keep our defenses strong, we must help to make our partners stronger," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.

"Training local forces is often our best weapon against violent extremism," Stoltenberg told a pre-summit forum of defense and security experts. Among the items on the NATO meeting's ambitious agenda is increased assistance for Iraq's military, extension of the West's financial commitment to the Afghan military and police, aid for Tunisia, and getting NATO more involved in the campaign against the Islamic State by authorizing use of AWACS surveillance planes to assist the U.S.-led coalition fighting the group.

In Warsaw, NATO heads of state and government will also formally order deployment of multinational units on the alliance's eastern borders. The action, telegraphed in advance like most items on the summit program following months of deliberations by NATO member governments, is vigorously opposed by the Kremlin. But German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen on Friday called it an appropriate measure to counter what she called a "completely unpredictable and aggressive Russia."

Along with the U.S. commitment announced by Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron was expected to tell the summit Britain will dispatch a 500-strong battalion to Estonia and an additional company of 150 troops to Poland. Canada and Germany have committed to furnishing core units for Latvia and Lithuania.

Image: Obama delivers remarks to reporters after meeting with Duda at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland
President Obama talks to reporters in Warsaw Friday.JONATHAN ERNST / Reuters

As Obama and the other alliance heads of state and government were gathering in the Polish capital, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow is willing to cooperate with NATO, even though he said it acts toward Russia like an enemy.

Russia "has always been open for dialogue" with NATO, especially to fight what it sees as a "genuine threat" — terrorism, Dmitry Peskov said.

"Russia is not looking (for an enemy) but it actually sees it happening," Peskov told reporters in Moscow. "When NATO soldiers march along our border and NATO jets fly by, it's not us who are moving closer to the NATO borders."

Warsaw may become the most highly-secured city in the world during the summit, which takes place after a string of recent extremist attacks across the globe.

Helicopters hovered Friday above the National Stadium, the meeting's venue, while 6,000 police officers, backed up by soldiers, gendarmes, firefighters and other security officials, were out on Warsaw's streets.

Security efforts are most heavily concentrated at the stadium, which has been encircled by a metal barrier, and high around hotels hosting the many VIPs. Many streets in the city of 1.7 million have been blocked and some mass transit routes altered, inconveniencing many residents.