President Donald Trump agreed to attend a meeting of NATO leaders in May during a phone call Sunday with alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg.  The conversation also touched on the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, according to a White House statement. 

Trump and the NATO secretary-general “discussed how to encourage all NATO allies to meet their defense spending commitments,” the statement said.

On the campaign trail, then Republican presidential candidate Trump criticized NATO, calling it “obsolete,” worrying some European leaders about his level of commitment.  But in the call Sunday, Trump expressed “strong support” for NATO. 

Trump and Stoltenberg also “discussed the potential for a peaceful resolution of the conflict along the Ukrainian border,” the White House statement said. 

A flare-up in hostilities has erupted between the Ukrainian military and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine with each side accusing the other of a new wave of shelling. More than 40 people have been killed in government and rebel-held areas. 

Trump has drawn criticism from both Democrats and his fellow Republicans at home for his expressed desire for warmer relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin; statements that have also made some European leaders feel uneasy. 

The previous U.S. administration and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia for its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and in retaliation for Moscow’s support for separatist militants in the Donetsk region where more than 9,750 people have been killed since the conflict erupted nearly three years ago.

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