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NATO names 'reflection' group after Macron criticism

French President Emmanuel Macron looks on as he visits the Kolmi-Hopen protective face masks factory, following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Saint-Barthelemy-d'Anjou near Angers, France March 31, 2020. Loic Venance/Pool via REUTERS

BRUSSELS: NATO named a panel of 10 experts Tuesday to study the alliance's political direction after French President Emmanuel Macron warned starkly that it was undergoing "brain death".

The group of five men and five women will be co-chaired by former German defense minister Thomas de Maziere and Washington's former top diplomat for Europe, Wess Mitchell.

NATO said the panel "will offer recommendations to reinforce alliance unity, increase political consultation and coordination between allies, and strengthen NATO's political role."

Macron caused uproar last year with an explosive Economist interview in which he despaired of what he said was the lack of strategic and political thinking at NATO.

He said Turkey's unilateral incursion against Kurdish fighters in Syria and US unpredictability under President Donald Trump indicated grave flaws at the heart of the 70-year-old alliance.

The comments drew public rebukes from other NATO leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who told Macron to "have his own brain death checked".

Washington also dismissed Macron's suggestions for reinvention, which include a call for a shift in NATO priorities away from big power threats like Russia and China to confronting terrorism.

At a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in November, France proposed a "small group of eminent persons" to consider the issue -- only for Germany to come up with its own separate plan.

And, while NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Berlin's proposal, he gave the French idea the cold shoulder, refusing even to comment on it.

The row overshadowed the run-up to December's NATO summit in London, where leaders tasked Stoltenberg with forming the expert panel and reporting back.

The committee also includes former foreign ministers in Hubert Vedrine of France and Anna Fotyga of Poland as well as ex-Canadian national security advisor Greta Bossenmaier and Tacan Ildem from Turkey, a senior NATO official and former ambassador.

But the choice of Mitchell, known as a hawk on Russia, as co-chair could be interpreted as a rebuff to Macron's calls for warmer ties with Moscow.

NATO foreign ministers -- now numbering 30 after North Macedonia formally joined the alliance Friday -- are to hold a regular session of talks Thursday.

For the first time, they will meet not in person but by video link because of restrictions imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19.

 

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