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Romanian president says more NATO presence needed in Eastern Europe

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BUCHAREST (Reuters) -Eastern European NATO states would like a bigger allied military presence on the bloc’s eastern flank, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said on Monday after a virtual summit that was joined by U.S. President Joe Biden.

The summit of the Bucharest Nine, a group of countries on the eastern edge of NATO, was jointly hosted by Iohannis and Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and was aimed at coordinating their security positions ahead of a full NATO summit in June.

“As allies on the Eastern flank, we need to continue consolidating deterrence and defence. We all recently witnessed the worrying military build-up by Russia in our close neighbourhood, in the Black Sea, in and around Ukraine,” Iohannis said.

“This is why I have argued, including in discussions with President Biden, for an increase of allied military presence in Romania and … the south of the Eastern flank.”

Biden, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and the presidents of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia joined the video conference.

“President Biden expressed his support for enhancing NATO’s deterrence and defence posture, as well as the importance of Allies increasing their resilience against harmful economic and political actions by our strategic competitors,” the White House press office said in a statement.

Biden was also seeking closer cooperation with the nine states on challenges “including global health security, climate change, energy security, and global economic recovery”.

Earlier this month, Washington said it could increase security help for Kyiv after Russia moved troops near its border with Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, where Ukrainian troops are in conflict with Moscow-backed separatists. Moscow announced the withdrawal of its forces on April 22.

Stoltenberg did not publicly address the call for a bigger presence in eastern Europe, but had said in his opening remarks that Biden’s participation demonstrated “the U.S. commitment to rebuilding alliances and strengthening NATO“.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie in Bucharest and Alan Charlish in Warsaw; Editing by Gareth Jones and Alison Williams)

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