Trump slams NATO al­lies

U.S. pres­i­dent claims Ger­many ‘con­trolled’ by Rus­sia, Merkel dif­fers

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - WORLD NEWS - JONATHAN LEMIRE and JILL COLVIN

BRUS­SELS — U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump bar­relled into a NATO sum­mit Wed­nes­day with claims that a nat­u­ral gas pipe­line deal has left Ger­many “to­tally con­trolled” and “cap­tive to Rus­sia” as he lobbed fresh com­plaints about al­lies’ “delin­quent” de­fence spend­ing dur­ing the open­ing of what was ex­pected to be a fraught two-day meet­ing.

Trump also sug­gested that NATO al­lies com­mit to spend­ing 4 per cent of their gross do­mes­tic prod­uct on de­fence — dou­ble the cur­rent goal of 2 per cent by 2024.

The pres­i­dent, in a testy ex­change with NATO Sec­re­tary- Gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg that kicked off his visit, took is­sue with the U.S. pro­tect­ing Ger­many as it strikes deals with Rus­sia.

“I have to say, I think it’s very sad when Ger­many makes a mas­sive oil and gas deal with Rus­sia where we’re sup­posed to be guard­ing against Rus­sia,” Trump said at a break­fast with Stoltenberg. “We’re sup­posed to pro­tect you against Rus­sia but they’re pay­ing bil­lions of dol­lars to Rus­sia and I think that’s very in­ap­pro­pri­ate.”

Trump re­peat­edly de­scribed Ger­many as “cap­tive to Rus­sia” be­cause of the en­ergy deal and urged NATO to look into the is­sue.

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel pushed back firmly, in­sist­ing that Ger­many makes its own de­ci­sions and draw­ing on her own back­ground grow­ing up in com­mu­nist East Ger­many be­hind the Iron Cur­tain.

“I’ve 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,” she said.

The pres­i­dent ap­peared to be re­fer­ring to the Nord Stream 2 pipe­line that would bring gas from Rus­sia to Ger­many ’s north­east­ern Baltic coast, by­pass­ing East­ern Euro­pean na­tions like Poland and Ukraine and dou­bling the amount of gas Rus­sia can send di­rectly to Ger­many. The vast un­der­sea pipe­line is op­posed by the U.S. and some other EU mem­bers, who warn it could give Moscow greater lever­age over West­ern Europe. It’s ex­pected to be on­line at the end of 2019

In their back-and-forth, Stoltenberg stressed to Trump that NATO mem­bers have been able to work to­gether de­spite their dif­fer­ences. “I think that two world wars and the Cold War taught us that we are stronger to­gether than apart,” he told the pres­i­dent, try­ing to calm ten­sions.

Trump’s dra­matic ex­change with Stoltenberg set the tone for what was al­ready ex­pected to be a tense day of meet­ings with lead­ers of the mil­i­tary al­liance as Trump presses jit­tery NATO al­lies about their mil­i­tary spend­ing ahead of his meet­ing next week with Putin.

“The United States is pay­ing far too much and other coun­tries are not pay­ing enough, es­pe­cially some. So we’re go­ing to have a meet­ing on that,” Trump said, de­scrib­ing the sit­u­a­tion as “dis­pro­por­tion­ate and not fair to the tax­pay­ers of the United States.”

“They will spend more,” he later pre­dicted. “I have great con­fi­dence they’ll be spend­ing more.”

And with that, he went on to push al­lies at the sum­mit to dou­ble their com­mit­ment on de­fence spend­ing.

“Dur­ing the pres­i­dent’s re­marks to­day at the NATO sum­mit, he sug­gested that coun­tries not only meet their com­mit­ment of 2 per cent of their GDP on de­fence spend­ing, but that they in­crease it to 4 per cent,” said White House spokes­woman Sarah Huck­abee San­ders. She said the pres­i­dent raised the same is­sue at NATO last year and that, “Trump wants to see our al­lies share more of the bur­den and at a very min­i­mum meet their al­ready stated obli­ga­tions.”

How­ever, a for­mal sum­mit dec­la­ra­tion is­sued by the NATO lead­ers Wed­nes­day reaf­firmed their “un­wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment” to the 2 per cent pledge set in 2014 and made no ref­er­ence to any ef­fort to get to 4 per cent.

Trump’s pipe­line crit­i­cism was an un­usual line of at­tack for a pres­i­dent who has pro­claimed him­self ea­ger to im­prove re­la­tions with Rus­sia’s Vladimir Putin and dis­missed the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity’s as­sess­ment that Rus­sia tried to un­der­mine West­ern democ­racy by med­dling in the 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to help Trump win. Trump has long ar­gued that im­prov­ing re­la­tions with Rus­sia would be good for both na­tions.

De­spite Trump’s claims about Ger­many, Merkel served as a force­ful ad­vo­cate for im­pos­ing — and main­tain­ing — sanc­tions on Rus­sia af­ter it an­nexed Crimea in 2014, ar­gu­ing that it vi­o­lated the prin­ci­ples of the in­ter­na­tional or­der es­tab­lished af­ter the Sec­ond World War. The pres­i­dent is also not the first leader to point to the im­pact of Nord Stream 2 on Europe, echo­ing com­plaints from East­ern Euro­pean al­lies who note it would cut out tran­sit coun­tries such as Poland and Ukraine.

Trump and Merkel met later Wed­nes­day on the side­lines of the sum­mit and kept their re­marks po­lite dur­ing a photo op­por­tu­nity with the press.

Trump told re­porters the two had a “very, very good re­la­tion­ship” and con­grat­u­lated Merkel on her “tremen­dous suc­cess.” Asked if they had dis­cussed the pipe­line, he said they had, but de­clined to elab­o­rate.

Merkel, for her part, called the two na­tions “good part­ners” and said “we wish to con­tinue to co­op­er­ate in the fu­ture.”

Trump has long pushed NATO mem­bers to meet their agreed-to tar­get of 2 per cent by 2024 and has ac­cused those who don’t of freeload­ing off the U.S.

PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel dur­ing their bi­lat­eral meet­ing, Wed­nes­day, in Brus­sels, Bel­gium, dur­ing the NATO sum­mit. Trump lashed out at Ger­many for its gas pipe­line deal with Rus­sia. The U.S. pres­i­dent also re­peated his call for NATO al­lies to spend more on their mil­i­taries.

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