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Incoming Pentagon chief will attend NATO meeting in Brussels next week

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Army Secretary Mark Esper, who becomes the acting defence secretary on Monday, will travel to Brussels next week for a meeting of NATO defence ministers, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday that Esper would replace acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who is stepping down after media reports emerged of domestic violence in his family.

Shanahan will remain acting Pentagon chief until Esper formally takes the reins on Monday. Trump told reporters on Tuesday Esper would likely be his nominee to lead the department.

Esper will travel later in the week to the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in Brussels, the Pentagon said in a statement.

“The focus of his meetings will be reinforcing the U.S. commitment to strengthening the NATO alliance, ensuring more equitable burden sharing, bolstering NATO readiness and addressing regional security issues,” the statement said.

The meeting comes as NATO grapples with a dispute between alliance members the United States and Turkey over Ankara’s decision to purchase a Russian air defence system.

Washington says it will cancel Turkey’s purchase of Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 stealth fighters if it proceeds with plans to buy the Russian S-400 system.

U.S. officials say Russia could glean important information about the stealth characteristics of the F-35, the world’s most advanced fighter. Turkey says it is buying the S-400 to meet its defence needs and the system poses no threat to the F-35.

Trump has also been at odds with NATO members that have not met defence spending guidelines of 2% of gross domestic product.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Lisa Shumaker)

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