US officials to meet with NATO as Afghanistan deadline looms

They are also expected to discuss the Iran nuclear accord and the Russian military build-up along the border of Ukraine.

The United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will meet with their NATO counterparts this week [File: Al Drago/The Associated Press]

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg discussed the Russian military buildup near Ukraine and other issues on Monday before the top US diplomat’s trip to Brussels this week.

Blinken and Stoltenberg discussed “the immediate need for Russia to cease its aggressive military buildup along Ukraine’s borders and in occupied Crimea” as well as prospects for advancing peace in Afghanistan, the US State Department said in a statement.

Blinken is set to head to the Belgian capital for the second time in weeks to consult with NATO allies as a deadline looms for a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Blinken will start talks Tuesday in Brussels and be joined by the defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, on Wednesday.

Blinken is expected to discuss intensifying European Union-backed diplomacy on reviving the Iran nuclear accord and rising tensions with Russia as it builds up its military near Ukraine.

However, the upcoming deadline for US troops to withdraw from Afghanistan, part of a deal reached by former president Donald Trump with the Taliban, is expected to top the agenda.

“I look forward to productive conversations with allies on a wide range of shared priorities. We are stronger when we work together,” Blinken tweeted as the State Department announced the trip.

President Joe Biden, who has made strengthening ties with allies a cornerstone of his administration, has promised to end the US’s longest war within the year, but has said that the May 1 deadline is not realistic.

The administration is seeking progress on a political agreement between the Afghan government, which was largely left out of the first deal, and the Taliban that can improve the chances of stability in Afghanistan once US troops leave.

Blinken travelled to Brussels last month for similar discussions. Amid coronavirus restrictions on international travel, he has only taken one other international trip – to Japan and South Korea – alongside Austin.

The trip by officials coincides with increasing tensions over Russian activities near Ukraine’s eastern border, where Washington says Russia has amassed more troops than at any time since 2014, when it annexed Crimea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine on Friday of “dangerous provocative actions” in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

The most recent NATO meetings also come a week after parties to the Iran nuclear deal met in Vienna, Austria – the first sign of progress after weeks of deadlock between the US and Iran.

However, an attack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility on Sunday, which Tehran has blamed on Israel, threatens to further complicate the negotiations.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies