Greece to keep NATO ties even if it exits euro, Stoltenberg says


Greece will remain an ally of NATO if it tumbles out of the euro area, the head of the military alliance said, even as the group’s members warn the debt crisis poses a security threat to Europe.

European and US officials have warned an exit by the Mediterranean state from the common currency would have repercussions for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which is locked in a dispute with Russia over Ukraine.

Wrangling over aid and the Mediterranean state’s future in the common currency has shaken ties between the government in Athens and its European partners. But while Russia has made overtures to the radical left SYRIZA government in Athens, Greece will remain a close partner, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview on Thursday.

“They have not linked the problems within the European Union and with the euro with their strong commitment to NATO,” Stoltenberg, 56, said in Croatia’s Adriatic walled coastal city of Dubrovnik. “What I appreciate is that Greece has been so clear in all their communication that Greece is and will remain a committed NATO ally.”

Another potential threat is the influx of refugees from conflicts in the Middle East and Africa who have poured across the EU’s southern borders and prompted some European officials to express concern of increased risk of terrorist attacks.

NATO and EU leaders have accused Russia of undoing years of stability by redrawing Europe’s borders with its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year.

Russia and NATO must ensure that their chilling ties don’t trigger military incidents or accidents that may explode into a wider conflict, Stoltenberg said. Among other tensions, Russian military jets have crossing the paths of civilian planes near the Baltic states’ airspace have nearly caused collisions, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said in June.

“That’s the reason we are so focused on predictability, transparency so we avoid any kind of misunderstanding that would create very difficult situation,” Stoltenberg said.

Russia also has capabilities in place to, with “very little warning time,” support a new offensive by pro-Kremlin separatists who have stepped up attacks on government troops in Ukraine, Stoltenberg said.

“Whether they are going to do it, that is not possible to say with certainty,” the NATO chief said. “But they have capacity, and they have capabilities, and therefore I call on them to withdraw heavy weapons from the contact line.”