US President Donald Trump yesterday ended his chaotic two-day visit to NATO by declaring victory, claiming that member nations caved to his demands to significantly increase defense spending and reaffirming his commitment to the alliance.
However, there were no immediate specifics on what he had achieved and French President Emmanuel Macron disputed Trump’s claim that NATO allies have agreed to boost defense spending beyond 2 percent of GDP.
“The United States’ commitment to NATO remains very strong,” Trump told reporters at a surprise news conference following an emergency session of NATO members held to address his threats.
“Yesterday I let them know that I was extremely unhappy with what was happening,” Trump said. “They have substantially upped their commitment and now we’re very happy and have a very, very powerful, very, very strong NATO.”
Trump did not specify which nations had committed to what, and it remained unclear whether any had changed their plans.
He seemed to suggest a speedier time line, saying nations would be “spending at a much faster clip.”
“Some are at 2 percent, others have agreed definitely to go to 2 percent and some are going back to get the approval,” he said.
NATO countries in 2014 committed to spending 2 percent of their GDPs on defense within a decade. NATO has estimated that only 15 members, or just more than half, would meet the benchmark by 2024 based on current trends.
Macron in his own news conference seemed to reject Trump’s claim that NATO powers had agreed to increases beyond previous targets, saying that the allies had confirmed their intention to meet the goal of 2 percent by 2024 and no more.
The emergency session came amid reports that Trump had threatened to leave the alliance if allies did not immediately increase their spending, but officials said no explicit threat was made.
“President Trump never at any moment, either in public or in private, threatened to withdraw from NATO,” Macron said.
Earlier yesterday, Trump called out US allies on Twitter, saying: “Presidents have been trying unsuccessfully for years to get Germany and other rich NATO Nations to pay more toward their protection from Russia.”
He also continued his attacks on Germany’s ties to Russia, saying: “Germany just started paying Russia, the country they want protection from, Billions of Dollars for their Energy needs coming out of a new pipeline from Russia.”
“Not acceptable!” he tweeted before arriving late at NATO headquarters for morning meetings with the leaders of Azerbaijan, Romania, Ukraine and Georgia.
Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, replied that she had “experienced myself a part of Germany controlled by the Soviet Union, and I’m very happy today that we are united in freedom as the Federal Republic of Germany and can thus say that we can determine our own policies and make our own decisions and that’s very good.”
However, Trump has been more conciliatory behind the scenes, including at a leaders’ dinner on Wednesday.
“I have to tell you that the atmosphere last night at dinner was very open, was very constructive and it was very positive,” Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic told reporters.
Amid the tumult, British Prime Minister Theresa May sounded a call for solidarity among allies.
“As we engage Russia, we must do so from a position of unity and strength — holding out hope for a better future, but also clear and unwavering on where Russia needs to change its behavior for this to become a reality,” she said.
Trump heads next to the UK. Although Trump administration officials point to the long-standing alliance between the US and the UK, Trump’s itinerary in England is largely to keep him out of central London, where significant protests are expected.
Instead, a series of events — a black-tie dinner with business leaders, a meeting with May and an audience with Queen Elizabeth II — are to happen outside the city, where London Mayor Sadiq Khan has been in a verbal battle with Trump.
US Ambassador to the UK Woody Johnson dismissed the significance of the protests, telling Fox News that one of the reasons the two nations are so close “is because we have the freedoms that we’ve all fought for, and one of the freedoms we have is freedom of speech and the freedom to express your views.”
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