Nato has reached an understanding on defence ties with the EU while top allies Washington and Ankara are finding "common ground" in a row over Syria, US defence secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday
A new European Union defence pact and Turkey's offensive against US-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria have put strains on a transatlantic alliance facing a more assertive Russia and threats from the Middle East.
Nato defence ministers met late Wednesday with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to discuss their concerns over duplication after Brussels agreed in December to a new defence pact.
"There is a clear understanding to include in written EU documents that the common defence is a Nato mission and a Nato mission alone," Mattis told a press conference in Brussels.
Mattis said discussions were "very candid" between the 29-nation Nato, which includes European Union members, and Mogherini.
"We have sufficient rigour in the political sharing, the political discussions, to keep the EU effort, for example on military mobility," Mattis said.
He said the EU can "enhance Nato common defense capabilities and does not draw from them."
The EU's so-called permanent structured cooperation on defence agreement, known as PESCO, has projects in view already to develop new military equipment and improve cooperation and decision-making.
But on Sunday a senior official working with Mattis said Washington had concerns that some of the proposed initiatives risked "pulling resources or capabilities away from Nato".
In the run-up to the meeting, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg warned there was "no way" the EU could replace the transatlantic alliance in guaranteeing European security.
"It will be absolutely without any meaning if Nato and the EU start to compete," the former Norwegian premier told reporters on Tuesday.
A row that is potentially more serious is the one festering between the United States and Turkey over Ankara's "Operation Olive Branch", launched last month against the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).
While Turkey views the YPG as a "terrorist" group, the United States has been working closely with the militia against the Islamic State group in Syria and giving it weapons, infuriating Ankara.
"We maintain an absolutely honest and open dialogue," Mattis said after meeting his Turkish counterpart Nurettin Canikli on the sidelines of the Nato meeting a day earlier.
"I think we are finding common ground," Mattis told the press conference yesterday.
During the handshake for the talks on Wednesday, Mattis appeared stony-faced.
He called "for a renewed focus on the campaign to defeat ISIS, and to preventing any vestige of the terrorist organisation from reconstituting in Syria," the Pentagon said in a statement yesterday, referring to the Islamic State group.