Obama says NATO needs regular presence in E. European countries

BRUSSELS, March 26 Wed Mar 26, 2014 11:11am EDT

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BRUSSELS, March 26 (Reuters) - NATO needs a regular presence in eastern European countries that feel vulnerable to Russia after its annexation of Crimea, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Wednesday, voicing concern about declining defence spending by some European allies.

NATO foreign ministers meeting next week should study plans to "make sure ... that we do more to ensure that a regular NATO presence among some of these states that may feel vulnerable is executed," Obama told a news conference after meeting EU leaders in Brussels.

He voiced concern about falling military budgets among some NATO allies. "The situation in Ukraine reminds us that our freedom isn't free, and we've got to be willing to pay for the assets, the personnel, the training that's required," he said.

Neither Ukraine nor Georgia are currently on a path to NATO membership and there is no prospect of that changing anytime soon because of Kiev's complicated relations with Moscow, he added in reference to Russian concerns about NATO expansion. (Reporting by Steve Holland)

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