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NATO Readiness May Be Hurt by U.S. Cuts, Official Says

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Feb. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Automatic U.S. budget cuts set to go into effect March 1 are likely to affect the Pentagon’s ability to train alongside its NATO allies, undermining the alliance’s readiness, Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have said budget cuts would affect U.S. training and “because training is likely to be affected in the U.S., we think the alliance readiness could be diminished,” Little told reporters en route to Brussels.

The U.S. would be restricted in its ability to train with allies “and bilateral training equals input to alliance readiness,” Little said. “We are also talking about the prospect of not being able to engage in rotational deployments in Europe. That’s another possibility.”

The Pentagon faces about $46 billion in spending reductions in the final seven months of this fiscal year if Congress and President Barack Obama fail to reach agreement on an alternative to the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration.

Panetta, who vacated his Pentagon offices last week in the hope of retiring to his home in California, returned to work this week after Republicans in the Senate blocked action on the nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel as the next defense secretary. Obama asked Panetta to travel to Brussels, where defense ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are meeting this week, Little said.

Afghanistan War

Panetta will meet individually with his counterparts from Afghanistan, the U.K., France, Italy and Australia, as well as participate in the NATO meeting, Little said.

They’re likely to discuss progress of the war in Afghanistan as well as troop levels, Little said. Obama announced last week that 34,000 U.S. troops of the 66,000 now in Afghanistan will return by the end of the year. Panetta also will discuss with NATO allies the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014, Little said.

The U.S. and Afghanistan are negotiating a bilateral security agreement that will determine the size and scope of U.S. presence in the country beyond 2014.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gopal Ratnam en route to Brussels at gratnam1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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