After special session, NATO allies reaffirm spending commitments
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US President Donald Trump launched a fresh attack on NATO allies' failure to meet defence spending targets on Thursday, prompting alliance leaders to huddle in a special session excluding other summit participants.
Speaking after the special session, Trump said he told allies he was "extremely unhappy" with current defence spending commitments. He reiterated, however, that the United States' commitment to NATO "remains very strong" and said allies had made unprecedented commitments to increase spending on their own defence.
"NATO is much stronger now than it was two days ago," Trump told reporters, describing an unscheduled crisis meeting of alliance leaders on Thursday morning as "fantastic" and having "a great collegial spirit".
The US president has been consistently blasting NATO members for failing to meet the requirement to spend 2 percent of GDP on defence. NATO has estimated that only 15 of its 29 members will meet this commitment as agreed by 2024.
Trump complained in Brussels that the US pays “probably 90 percent of the costs of NATO”. US spending is actually closer to 67 percent of the NATO funding total.
During his first visit to NATO’s Belgium headquarters a year ago, Trump declined to state his support for the organisation's Article 5 mutual defence agreement. While on the campaign trail he repeatedly called the alliance "obsolete".
But at the end of Thursday’s emergency session Trump sounded more upbeat about the alliance, which was founded nearly 70 years ago to deter the Soviet threat. "I believe in NATO," said Trump, adding that he thought the summit was “fantastic”.
Trump said allies had promised to boost defence spending after the session but did not specify which countries had committed to what. French President Emmanuel Macron denied Trump's claim that the allies had made any new agreement.
“Everyone agreed to raise spending, in line with commitments made in 2014,” Macron added, referring to NATO countries’ pledge that year to move toward spending 2% of the GDP on defense within 10 years. “I think NATO has emerged from these last few days much stronger.”
The French leader said that Trump had not threatened to pull out of the 70-year-old alliance over the defense spending commitments of Washington’s European allies, contrary to some media reports.
“At no point did President Trump, neither in bilateral meetings nor in multilateral ones, say he would pull out of NATO,” Macron said. Pushed a second time, he said: “No, at least not when I was there. He didn’t say that to me.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attempted to minimise tensions within the alliance, telling reporters that "there was a clear commitment to NATO by all" demonstrated at the emergency session.
She said Trump raised the topic of better burden-sharing and more spending by Germany "as has been discussed for months" and that "we made clear that we're on the way".
Leaders from non-NATO countries Afghanistan and Georgia were asked to leave ahead of the special session, along with most NATO leaders' retinues of officials, as the heads of state and governments of the Western alliance sought to deal directly with the man whose nation commands much of the budget and forces for Europe's defence.
Trump had opened the first day of talks in Brussels on Wednesday with a public diatribe against Germany, the second-biggest state in the Western defence alliance.
“Germany is a captive of Russia because it is getting so much of its energy from Russia,” Trump said, taking particular aim at the proposed Nord Stream II gas pipeline, which he has previously criticised.
“Everybody’s talking about it all over the world, they’re saying we’re paying you billions of dollars to protect you but you’re paying billions of dollars to Russia.”
Trump held talks with Merkel on the sidelines of the summit on Wednesday, hours after he fiercely criticised German policy.
Next up: Talks with Putin
Trump's comments on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline came ahead of his summit Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Responding to Trump’s comments, the Kremlin said the fiery rhetoric was unlikely to have an impact on the talks.
Russia is keen to press ahead with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline since it has the potential to double its gas exports under the Baltic Sea to Germany, bypassing traditional routes through Ukraine with which it has tense relations.
But Washington believes the pipeline would give Russia another tool for the political coercion of European countries, especially Ukraine, and is using the project to divide Europe.
Despite Trump's earlier harangues, he was mild-mannered at a private dinner on Wednesday and avoided any outbursts that many NATO diplomats had feared.
"He was in a good mood, he said Europe was a continent he appreciated," Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told reporters.
Macron said the summit atmosphere was "much calmer" than expected, adding that he saw a clear will to maintain the unity of the alliance, while Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said Trump's input was "constructive".
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP and AFP)