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The United States will station 500 more military personnel in Germany to strengthen bilateral ties, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said at the start of his first official visit to Europe.
The move pivots the administration of President Joe Biden away from his predecessor Donald Trump, who set out to reduce troops and shift military commands from Germany over allegations the key NATO ally did not pay its fair share towards defence.
“Today I am happy to announce that we will be increasing the US force presence in Germany,” Austin told reporters after talks with his counterpart Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer in Berlin on Tuesday.
Arrived in Germany last night. Looking forward to talks today with German leaders to reinforce the value the United States places on the bilateral defense relationship with one of our closest NATO Allies. pic.twitter.com/pGSTHvlCn3
— John Kirby (@PentagonPresSec) April 13, 2021
“I briefed the minister on our intention to permanently station approximately 500 additional US personnel in the Wiesbaden area as early as this fall,” he said.
Kramp-Karrenbauer lauded the development as a “strong signal” of a healthy US-German relationship.
The Biden administration said in February that it would put on hold the Trump-era plans to pull back about 12,000 troops from the roughly 34,500 stationed in Germany.
Although the prospect had been looming for years, Trump’s decision had been met with shock and opposition from Germany, particularly from states where the bases are located.
The Biden administration has stressed a multilateral approach to global affairs and has said it will seek to strengthen ties with longtime allies.
Continuing that change in tone, Austin pledged that Germany would “continue to be an important security and economic partner” for the US “for the years ahead”.
When asked if the decision means Washington will not carry out Trump’s planned withdrawals, Austin said the Pentagon has “ceased planning” for troop reductions.
The German minister, meanwhile, said she had Biden’s word that “there will be no troop reduction as was previously planned”.
The meeting on Tuesday came as Austin is set to join US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for a series of NATO meetings in Brussels this week, with the looming May 1 deadline for US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan – part of Trump-era deal with the Taliban – and Russia’s troop buildup on the border with Ukraine expected to top the agenda.
The US officials are also expected to discuss the 2015 Iran nuclear deal with European parties to the agreement.
Talks on restoring the deal began in Vienna last week, the first sign that an impasse between Washington and Tehran could be giving way, but a “sabotage” attack on the Natanz nuclear facility on Sunday has muddied the negotiations.
In 2018, Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord, which offered sanctions relief in exchange for Tehran curtailing its nuclear programme.
Austin also said the ongoing dispute over the Nord Stream gas pipeline project between Russia and Germany would not harm ties between Berlin and Washington.
The US and several European countries have been staunchly opposed to the $11bn project, arguing that it would increase German and EU dependence on Russia for critical gas supplies.
“We’ve expressed our opposition to this deal and the influence it will actually give Russia,” Austin told reporters. “But we’re not going to let that issue get in the way of a tremendous relationship that we have with the country of Germany.”