New Pentagon chief praises Germany for hosting U.S. troops, reversing Trump's tack

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin praised Germany for hosting U.S. troops in a call with his German counterpart on Wednesday, fueling speculation that President Joe Biden could overturn a drawdown ordered by his predecessor Donald Trump.

FILE PHOTO: Retired General Lloyd Austin testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing to be the next Secretary of Defense in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, U.S. January 19, 2021. Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo/File Photo

Austin plans to carry out a global review of U.S. troop positioning, which would include Trump’s order last year to eventually withdraw about a third of the 34,000-strong U.S. troop contingent in Germany.

Trump, declaring that “We don’t want to be the suckers any more,” faulted the close U.S. ally for failing to meet NATO’s defense spending target and accused it of taking advantage of the United States on trade.

Austin took a different tack.

“Secretary Austin expressed his gratitude to Germany for continuing to serve as a great host for U.S. forces,” the Pentagon said in a statement following Austin’s call with German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

Under Trump’s withdrawal plan, just under 6,000 of the roughly 12,000 U.S. troops withdrawing from Germany would reposition to the Black Sea region and some could temporarily deploy in waves to the Baltics.

Other forces leaving Germany would permanently move to Italy and the U.S. military’s European headquarters would relocate from Stuttgart, Germany, to Belgium.

The Trump pullout caught Germany off guard.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Austin assured Kramp-Karrenbauer that whatever the United States did in the future, it would do it in consultation with Germany.

While in office Trump attacked Germany repeatedly. Biden, who took office last week, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday underscored the need for cooperation on global challenges including the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Pentagon said Austin also spoke with Kramp-Karrenbauer about “force posture in Afghanistan and Iraq, and combating the malign influence of our shared strategic rivals.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas spoke with new U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday and agreed to cooperate on issues including China and Iran’s nuclear capacity, the German Foreign Ministry said in a tweet.

Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Howard Goller