March 11, 2019 / 7:18 PM / 7 months ago

NATO's Stoltenberg invited to address U.S. Congress April 3

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican and Democratic U.S. congressional leaders on Monday invited NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to address lawmakers next month, offering a rare honour to the head of an organisation often derided by President Donald Trump.

FILE PHOTO: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a news conference during a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 14, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi invited Stoltenberg to speak to a joint meeting of the House of Representatives and Senate on April 3, as the alliance celebrates its 70th anniversary.

Trump has questioned the value to Washington of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and many lawmakers see honouring Stoltenberg as a chance to reaffirm the American commitment to the alliance.

“During this critical time for the United States, NATO and the European Union, the U.S. Congress and the American people look forward to your message of friendship and partnership, as we work together to strengthen our critical alliance and advance a future of peace around the world,” Pelosi said in a letter to Stoltenberg on Monday.

Pelosi, a Democrat, consulted Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer as she planned the invitation. She sent the letter on behalf of all four congressional leaders.

In February, Pelosi led a delegation of U.S. lawmakers to Brussels, where they sought to reassure European allies that differences over Trump’s policies were mere “family squabbles” and transatlantic ties remained strong.

Pelosi met with NATO’s leadership during that visit.

The European Union and United States have traditionally been the closest of allies, also working together through NATO.

Trump, however, has called NATO obsolete and lambasted his European peers for not spending enough on defence, raising doubts among many in Europe about his commitment to the Western military alliance and Europe’s broader security.

Some of Trump’s fellow Republicans see Stoltenberg’s speech as an opportunity for the NATO leader to address U.S. concerns such as Trump’s desire for European governments to raise defence spending to 2 percent of economic output, an alliance goal.

The opportunity to address a joint meeting of Congress is one of the highest honours Washington affords foreign dignitaries. There have been 120 such addresses since the first, by King David Kalakaua of Hawaii in 1874.

The most recent was by French President Emmanuel Macron in April 2018.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney

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