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NATO

NATO to decide on new rapid reaction force

The final day of the NATO summit in Wales has opened with all eyes on Ukraine. Leaders are expected to back plans to establish a rapid reaction force near Russia's border to deter Moscow from provocations in the region.

At the opening of the second day of talks in the Welsh city, Newport on Friday, host Prime Minister David Cameron said the alliance must show its Article 5 blanket security guarantee was still valid for all 28 members.

Under Article 5 of the NATO charter, an attack on one member state is viewed as an attack on the whole alliance.

"As Russia tramples illegally over Ukraine, we must reassure our members that we will always uphold our Article 5 obligations," Cameron said.

In order to accomplish this he said NATO "must be able to act more quickly," hoping alliance leaders would agree on Friday to set up a new rapid reaction force headquartered in Poland which could be deployed "anywhere in the world in just 2-5 days."

If the members do agree, he said Britain would "contribute 3,500 personnel."

The rapid reaction force is meant to soothe fears among member states on the alliance's eastern flank, who are concerned they could be Russia's next target following its provocations in Ukraine. The West has accused Russia of orchestrating the crisis in eastern Ukraine, a claim the Kremlin has consistently denied.

The force is also meant to show that NATO is prepared for new threats, especially in light of gains by "Islamic State" militants in Iraq and Syria.

The announcement comes amid peace talks in Minsk, Belarus. The highly anticipated talks will involve representatives from Russia, Ukraine, pro-Moscow rebels and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The talks are aimed at achieving a ceasefire to bring an end to the months of fighting between Kyiv forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Top NATO officials were expected to announce further sanctions against Moscow if the talks in Minsk prove fruitless.

NATO condemns IS

At the opening of Friday's discussions in Wales, Cameron also condemned the "barbaric and despicable acts" carried out by Sunni militant group "Islamic State" (IS) who have taken over swathes of Iraqi and Syrian territory.

"Their threats will only harden our resolve to stand up for our values," Cameron said.

The defense and foreign ministers of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark met on the sidelines of the summit to discuss a strategy for addressing the Islamists.

"We need to attack them in ways that prevent them from taking over territory, to bolster the Iraqi security forces and others in the region who are prepared to take them on, without committing troops of our own," US Secretary of State John Kerry told a meeting of the 10 nations.

"Obviously I think that's a red line for everybody here: no boots on the ground," he said.

hc/jr (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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