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What Did Obama, Other NATO Leaders Accomplish At Summit?


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. President Obama is back in Washington today after wrapping up the summit of NATO leaders in Wales. As summits go, this one was busier than most. The alliance was created during the Cold War. And in a way, it has returned to those roots as it sought ways to counter Russia's moves in Ukraine. NATO leaders also looked for strategy to deal with the Islamic State, known as ISIS. NPR's Ari Shapiro covered the summit and joins us on the line from London. And Ari, how does the alliance plan to address Russia and the anxieties in eastern Europe over Moscow's actions?

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Well, there were a couple steps that were agreed on at this summit. Non-lethal assistance to Ukraine is one step - not weapons, but things like medical aid, communications devices, body armor. And then we also at the summit heard a lot of reassurance for NATO member states that border Russia. NATO agreed to create this new ready-action force that can deploy within days as opposed to the months that it now takes NATO troops to deploy. They're going to be based near the Russian border, sending a really clear message to Moscow that as NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen put it, if you mess with one NATO member state you mess with all of them.

RATH: And Moscow has been pretty sensitive about the Baltic states in particular. How is Russian President Putin likely to respond to a rapid reaction force in attempts to give more support to Ukraine as well?

SHAPIRO: We've seen kind of mixed reaction. During the summit, there was an announcement of the cease-fire in Ukraine. It's not clear whether that cease-fire is going to hold or not. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke today. And so far it seems like the cease-fire may be holding. But it's really kind of too soon to tell. At the same time, there was a little skirmish where an Estonian police officer was apparently abducted and dragged across the border into Russia at gunpoint. Details of that are very murky. And Putin has really warned against extending NATO membership to new countries that share a border with Russia, even as NATO members said at the summit, they are leaving the door to membership open. So it's mixed signals and clearly Putin is not happy with the steps that NATO is taking. But it's unclear how this is all going to play out.

RATH: Now the other crisis high on the agenda for the NATO summit was the threat posed by militants from the group known as the Islamic State. Was there any agreement on how to that approach threat?

SHAPIRO: A lot of that talk was happening on the sidelines. So Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel convened a meeting of about 10 different countries talking about the approach of the Islamic State. We saw a joint op-ed co-authored by British Prime Minister David Cameron and President Obama saying the world needs to take this seriously. And at his press conference yesterday, President Obama said he encountered no disagreement with that sentiment that the world needs to do something. What exactly that something is remains unclear. Secretary Kerry is going to visit the region soon and they are hoping to get some kind of global plan of attack in place by the time the UN General Assembly convenes in New York later this month.

RATH: Ari, having - coming straight from that gathering, do you have a sense that these crises have presented NATO with a new sense of mission?

SHAPIRO: No question. You know, a few years ago there was a real sense that the NATO mission was the war in Afghanistan. And when that war wrapped up, NATO would have to figure out what its purpose in life was. Well, it no longer needs to figure that out. NATO definitely has a sense of purpose. And coming out of the summit, you even saw countries agree to increase their defense budgets after years of decreasing defense budgets in response to these crises that we're seeing unfold now.

RATH: NPR's Ari Shapiro in London. Thanks, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.