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NATO chief: Alliance 'ready to step up' in Mideast12 February 2020

Defense ministers to discuss fight against Daesh/ISIS, training missions, Syrian regime attacks on civilians in Idlib

NATO is "ready to step up" to fight against Daesh/ISIS and provide more security in the Middle East, the alliance's secretary general told reporters Wednesday.

At a two-day meeting in Brussels, NATO defense ministers are discussing security and stability in the Middle East with a special focus on the fight against Daesh, as well as the alliance's role in Afghanistan and its response to Russian missile deployments.

"It is extremely important for us that ISIS never returns," Jens Stoltenberg underlined, referring to the "horrendous violence" caused by the terror organization.

Stoltenberg urged the ministers to reiterate their commitment to NATO's training mission Iraq, which he said plays a crucial role in the fight against Daesh. He added that other ways of helping Iraq and other countries in the region would also be on the table during the talks.

He also cited the alliance's training mission in Afghanistan meant to reduce violence between the government and Taliban militants.

Stoltenberg did not hide his concerns over the new Russian missile systems that "violating the INF treaty." Despite Russia's non-respect for the arms control agreement, NATO "has no intention to deploy new land-based missile in Europe," he said.

He confirmed that the alliance was only interested in developing conventional capabilities and air-to-air missile defense systems, as well as re-establishing an effective arms control regime.

Turkey's Defense Minister Hulusi Akar also attended the meeting, where, outside the official program, he will hold bilateral talks with his counterparts on recent attacks by the Syrian Bashar al-Assad regime against civilians in the Idlib de-escalation zone in northwestern Syria.

A day earlier, Stoltenberg condemned the attacks calling them "horrendous attacks against civilians."

"We call on Assad and on Russia, because Russia provides support to the regime, to stop these attacks, to respect international law and to fully support the UN efforts to try to find a peaceful solution," he told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday.

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