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US House votes overwhelmingly to prohibit exit from NATO

Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell delivers remarks after being sworn-in by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on November 2, 2017. (State Department/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed a bill affirming congressional support for NATO, amid renewed concerns over President Donald Trump’s commitment to the 29-member alliance.

The bipartisan NATO Support Act, which forbids the use of funds to withdraw from the alliance and states that it is U.S. policy to remain part of the alliance, passed by a 357-22 vote.

Beside asserting Congress’s control over the money, the bill reaffirms U.S. backing of NATO and its mutual defense clause.

It also voices support for Montenegro, its newest member, and for “robust” U.S. funding for the European Deterrence Initiative, and for the goal that each alliance member spend at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense by 2024.

Just hours before the vote, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell, the top U.S. diplomat to Europe and an outspoken NATO supporter, tendered his resignation amid strained ties in trans-Atlantic relations.

The House vote and Mitchell’s resignation come amid tensions with European leaders over Washington’s commitment to NATO and transatlantic ties in general.

The New York Times, citing federal government sources, recently reported that Trump put forward the idea of withdrawing the United States from NATO last year, a move that would effectively destroy the alliance, which marks its 70th anniversary in April.

“The NATO alliance is central to American security and to maintaining peace and stability around the world,” House majority leader Steny Hoyer said in a statement before the January 22 vote.

Mitchell’s departure will be effective from February 15. He had served in the post for just over a year. Elisabeth Millard, a career public servant, will take over the job in a temporary capacity.

Reuters reports that Mitchell submitted his resignation letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on January 4, stating that he felt he had completed his goals at the job and wanted to spend more time with his family.

There was no overt sign that Mitchell, a former policy analyst on Central and Eastern Europe, was resigning in protest against the policies of Trump’s administration.

The administration has been constantly losing top officials since Trump took over the White House two years ago. Jim Mattis resigned at the end of last year as defense secretary, following strong disagreements with Trump’s Syria policy.