Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg has played down concern that the US will rush to pull thousands of troops out of Germany, saying Washington has made no final decision on when such a withdrawal might take place.
President Donald Trump has said he is ordering a major reduction in US troop strength in Germany, from around 34,500 personnel down to 25,000.
Members of his own party have criticised the move as a gift to Russia and a threat to US national security. Germany is a hub for US operations in the Middle East and home to its European command headquarters.
“The US has made it clear that no final decision has been made on how and when,” Mr Stoltenberg told reporters on the eve of two days of video meetings between Nato defence ministers, where the issue is to be discussed.
Mr Stoltenberg has spoken to Mr Trump about the move and says he is also in contact with Germany.
“What matters for me is that we maintain credible deterrence and defence and that we maintain the strong link between North America and Europe,” he said.
He underlined that Washington has increased its military presence in Europe in recent years, and that European allies are spending more on defence.
Mr Trump on Monday lashed out at Germany for failing to pay enough for its own defence, branding the Nato ally “delinquent” for not meeting a goal set in 2014 for members to halt budget cuts and move towards spending at least 2% of gross national product on defence by 2024.
Mr Stoltenberg declined to speculate on whether the timing of Mr Trump’s announcement had anything to do with the approach of the US elections in November.
The US ambassador to Nato, Kay Bailey Hutchison, said she was not aware of preparations for any possible troop withdrawal.
“Any kind of actual planning, I think, has not happened yet,” she told reporters at a video news conference on Tuesday. “I don’t think that we have any kind of timeline that we have heard of.”
She described Germany as “a good partner” of the US at Nato and said “it should not be thought that there is any walking away from Europe, and Germany”.
Pulling out thousands of troops or transferring them — speculation is rife that some of the US personnel might move to Poland — could not be done overnight, is likely to take a few months and would be costly.
During a visit to Poland’s capital on Tuesday, German foreign minister Heiko Maas said his government has not been given details about Washington’s plan.
He said in Warsaw that Germany is still waiting to see what exactly the US plan entails. He added that that the US military presence in Germany is important not just for Germany’s security but also for that of the US and all of Europe.