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In Tallinn, Gabriel expresses doubts on NATO defence spending target

Germany's Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel addresses a news conference in Vienna, Austria February 27, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

TALLIN (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters in Estonia on Wednesday that NATO had not agreed on every nation in the alliance having to meet a rigid target of spending 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defence.

“I have a concern that politicians make public promises that they can’t fulfil later on,” Gabriel said. He said that NATO had merely agreed that member nations would make efforts to reach the 2 percent target.

“There is no apodictic 2 percent goal but rather...we should be moving in that direction,” he said at the start of a visit to Baltic states. Germany now spends 1.2 percent of GDP on defence.

At a NATO summit in Wales in 2014, allies agreed to end years of defence cuts that left Europeans without vital capabilities. They agreed all allies should reach the target of spending 2 percent of economic output on defence every year by 2024, although the goal is not legally binding.

The issue has become a source of tension between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and Gabriel’s Social Democrats, junior partners in the ruling coalition government, who are hoping to unseat Merkel in September national elections.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a conservative, has criticised Gabriel for his remarks at the Munich Security Conference, where he warned against focussing solely on defence spending and unleashing a new arms race.

Merkel has said Germany needed to fulfil its commitment to boost defence spending to meet NATO’s target of 2 percent.

Germany has come under increased pressure since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump to meet NATO’s defence spending target.

(This version of the story corrects spelling of Tallinn)

Reporting by Sabine Siebold; writing by Erik Kirschbaum; editing by Michael Nienaber