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Watch back: NATO members highlight unity at end of tense anniversary summit

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NATO heads of state attend the plenary session of the NATO summit at the Grove hotel in Watford, Britain December 4, 2019.
NATO heads of state attend the plenary session of the NATO summit at the Grove hotel in Watford, Britain December 4, 2019. -
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Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS
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  • NATO leaders intended to put up a more united front on Day 2 of the alliance's 70th-anniversary summit stating that they stand together for collective defence
  • The opening on Tuesday was tense, with testy exchanges between the US and French presidents and public disagreements over military spending, Turkey and a Baltic defence strategy
  • Day 2 of the summit focussed on burden-sharing, the rise of China and combat-readiness, officials said
  • In a final press conference, the alliance's secretary-general underlined the leaders' commitment to NATO and talked about adapting to modern threats

NATO leaders intended to put up a more united front on the second day of the alliance's 70th-anniversary summit on Wednesday after public infighting overshadowed the opening.

At the final press conference on Wednesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated the leaders' commitment to collective defence and the fight against terrorism.

When questioned about public statements by leaders, Stoltenberg stated that "disagreements will always attract more attention" but that it is the nature of democratic nations.

He added that the leaders discussed engaging with Russia and the rise of China.

Allies committed 30 battalions, 30 squadrons, and 30 combat ships within 30 days. He said they also agreed on space as the next operational domain for NATO.

On 5G networks, Stoltenberg said: "we agreed to rely only on secure and resilient systems." Experts have voiced concerns over Chinese company Huawei's involvement in the building of these networks.

Stoltenberg also spoke about "dialogue" with Russia, stating that NATO needed a "better relationship" with the country.

French President Emmanuel Macron echoed that sentiment in a press conference. He said not everyone considered Russia an "enemy" and that although Russia is a "threat in certain areas", it is also a neighbouring country and partner in other areas.

Attempts to show unity

As he arrived at the summit, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said of NATO: "There is far more that unites us than divides us."

After a formal handshaking ceremony, Stoltenberg had hailed "the most successful alliance in history."

He highlighted the progress that allies have made in burden-sharing, recalling that Europe and Canada will spend $400 billion (€360 billion) collectively on defence by 2024.

The remarks followed accusations by Trump on Tuesday that allies were "delinquent" in their failure to spend as much as the United States on their armed forces.

"We are rock solid in our commitment to NATO," Johnson said as he opened the formal meeting of NATO leaders.

"History shows that peace cannot be taken for granted and even as we celebrate this anniversary we must ensure our deeds match our words," Johnson said.

"We must never shy away from discussing new realities, particularly NATO's response to emerging threats like hybrid warfare and disruptive technologies including space and cyber," he said.

Stoltenberg told reporters earlier on Wednesday morning that the second day of the alliance's 70th-anniversary summit would also address the rise of China for the first time and combat-readiness.

Expectations from NATO talks

In formal talks following a Buckingham Palace reception on Tuesday to celebrate 70 years of NATO, European leaders led by Germany and France aimed to tell Trump they will not be treated as junior partners as they confront global conflicts.

"If we invest money and risk our soldiers' lives... we should be clear on NATO's fundamentals," Macron said on Twitter, adding that on Wednesday he would "defend the interests of France and Europe."

That is likely to include a push to broaden NATO politically to consider a bigger role for the alliance in the Middle East and possibly Africa, although Berlin and Paris must first seek NATO support for a "wise persons" group to draw up reform plans.

Tuesday's gathering in London was marked by testy exchanges between Trump and Macron over the future of transatlantic ties, while the US leader reiterated his criticism of Germany for not spending enough on defence, seemingly unaware of Berlin's new defence plans to reach a NATO spending target by 2031.

Macron also accused Turkey of working with Islamic State proxies in Syria, although Canada's leader played down tensions.

"NATO has survived because we've always had frank conversations," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

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