NATO Secretary General says sees no role for alliance in Iraq

MADRID Thu Jun 12, 2014 12:26pm EDT

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MADRID (Reuters) - NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Thursday he saw no role for Western alliance in Iraq after Islamist militants seized swathes of territory in the country and took 80 Turkish citizens hostage.

"NATO's role is the defense of our allies... and we don't have a mandate or request on Iraq," said Rasmussen, who also condemned the violence and called for immediate release of the hostages.

"We urge the hostage takers to release the hostages immediately. Nothing can justify this criminal act ... I don't see a role for NATO in Iraq, but of course we follow the situation closely and urge all parties involved to stop the violence," he said during a conference in Madrid.

NATO ambassadors held an emergency meeting at Turkey's request on Wednesday at which Turkey briefed the other allies on the situation in the Iraqi city of Mosul and the hostages.

Rasmussen also said that Spain had agreed to send four fighter aircraft to reinforce NATO air patrols over the Baltic states this autumn.

It was another step by NATO allies to reinforce security in its eastern European member states, which have been alarmed by Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.

A number of NATO allies, including the United States, Britain, Denmark, France, Canada and Germany, have offered extra fighters to patrol the skies over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania or elsewhere in eastern Europe.

The Baltic states have no fighter aircraft of their own and so rely on other NATO members to send fighters to the region for four-month stints.

Rasmussen also brought a message to Spain that he expected Madrid to stop a slide in defense spending.

Spain, like many other European countries, has cut defense spending in response to the 2008 financial crisis. But Rasmussen and U.S. leaders are pressing allies to reverse the cuts in response to the Russian actions in Ukraine.

Rasmussen said he "encouraged Spain to look into its defense spending once its economic situation improves".

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Writing by Paul Day and Adrian Croft; Editing by Sonya Dowsett/Mark Heinrich)

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