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2nd LD: U.S. stresses transatlantic bond as Munich Security Conference opens

Xinhua News Agency | Fri,2017-02-17 MUNICH, Feb. 17 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Friday reassured European leaders that the transatlantic bond is "the strongest bulwark against instability and violence" amid ongoing security uncertainty concerns after U.S. President Donald Trump took office.
"Security is always best when provided by a team," he told the Munich Security Conference (MSC) which officially opened Friday afternoon as an array of global security issues ranging from the future of the transatlantic alliance to the West-Russia relations are in the spotlight.
"America's security is tied to Europe," Mattis said.
The three-day MSC will see over 500 decisionmakers and participants in the realm of international security from the world debating critical security challenges.
Mattis said in his much-anticipated speech that the Article 5 of NATO charter on collective defense is "a bedrock commitment".
He also warned of the "threat on multiple fronts" in Europe and urged NATO allies to contribute their fair share to the collective defense.
Mattis' comments came weeks after Trump prompted severe concerns across Europe by calling NATO "obsolete".
But U.S. officials have since assured the transatlantic alliance's 27 other leaders that the U.S. has "strong support for NATO" and "the alliance remains a fundamental bedrock for the United States".
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is expected to address the MSC meeting on Saturday in his first foreign tour since taking office. He is also scheduled to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to further clarify his country's amid concerns over the new president's commitment to NATO and posture toward Russia.
German Minister of Defense, Ursula von der Leyen, said in her opening statement at the MSC that the Europe's open societies and way of life are targeted by sphere-of-influence politics as well as disinformation.
"We want to meet our commitment as Europeans, as Atlanticists, as a grown-up country, a reliable democracy," she said.
"A stable EU is as much in the U.S. interest as a united NATO," she said.
The privately organized meeting, which has become a key annual gathering for the international strategic community, comes against the backdrop of transatlantic uncertainties and the crisis of the liberal order following last year's game-changing events such as the Brexit and the Trump presidency.
The conference agenda focuses on the future of transatlantic relations and NATO after the election of Donald Trump, the state of European Union cooperation in security and defense matters, the Ukraine crisis and relations with Russia, the war in Syria, and the security situation in the Asia-Pacific.
Participants will also discuss terrorism, information warfare, as well as major threats to global health and climate security.
MSC Chairman Wolfgang Ischinger told media ahead of the meeting that the event occurred at a time when the international security environment is "arguably more volatile than at any point since World War II".
At the MSC opening on Friday, Ischinger stressed the "massive uncertainty" in today's world as the "most anticipated security conference in many years" kicks off and the threats EU is under from both within and from outside.
"Some of the most important pillars of the liberal international order are weak," he said.
Among this year's confirmed participants are the new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, European Council President Donald Tusk, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is scheduled to address the conference late Friday.
Since its foundation in 1963, the annual MSC, once dubbed a "transatlantic family gathering", has become an independent forum dedicated to promoting peaceful conflict resolution and international cooperation and dialogue. Enditem
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