Macron de­nies spend­ing claim

French pres­i­dent says NATO mem­bers didn’t agree to boost spend­ing be­yond two per cent goal

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

BRUS­SELS — In a chaotic 28 hours at NATO, U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump dis­par­aged long­time al­lies, cast doubt on his com­mit­ment to the mu­tu­alde­fence or­ga­ni­za­tion and sent the 29-mem­ber pact into fren­zied emer­gency ses­sion. Then, in a head-snap­ping pivot at the end, on Thurs­day he de­clared the al­liance a “fine-tuned ma­chine” that had ac­ceded to his de­mands to speed up in­creases in mil­i­tary spend­ing.

Trump claimed mem­ber na­tions had agreed to sig­nif­i­cantly boost their de­fence bud­gets and reaf­firmed — af­ter days of grip­ing that the U.S. was be­ing taken ad­van­tage of by its al­lies — that the U.S. re­mains faith­ful to the ac­cord. “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.

There were no im­me­di­ate specifics on what Trump said he had achieved, and French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron quickly dis­puted Trump’s claim that NATO al­lies had agreed to boost de­fence spend­ing be­yond their ex­ist­ing goal of two per cent of GDP.

Trump had spent his time in Brus­sels be­rat­ing mem­bers of the mil­i­tary al­liance for fail­ing to spend enough of their money on de­fence, ac­cus­ing Europe of freeload­ing off the U.S. and rais­ing doubts about whether he would come to mem­bers’ de­fence if they were at­tacked.

Trump said he made his anger clear to al­lies on Wednes­day.

“Yes­ter­day I let them know that I was ex­tremely un­happy with what was hap­pen­ing,” Trump said, adding that, in re­sponse, Euro­pean coun­tries agreed to up their spend­ing.

“They have sub­stan­tially upped their com­mit­ment and now we’re very happy and have a very, very pow­er­ful, very, very strong NATO,” he said.

Paint­ing a rosy por­trait be­fore he left Brus­sels, Trump added: “I can you tell you that NATO now is a re­ally a fine-tuned ma­chine. Peo­ple are pay­ing money that they never paid be­fore. They’re happy to do it. And the United States is be­ing treated much more fairly.”

With that, Trump moved on to the U.K., where sig­nif­i­cant protests against him were ex­pected. Trump’s itin­er­ary in Eng­land will largely keep him out of cen­tral Lon­don, the cen­tre of the protests.

U.S. lead­ers for decades have pushed NATO al­lies to spend more on de­fence in an ef­fort to more eq­ui­tably share the col­lec­tive de­fence bur­den.

NATO coun­tries in 2014 set a goal of mov­ing to­ward spend­ing two per cent of their GDP on de­fence within 10 years. NATO has es­ti­mated that only 15 mem­bers, or just over half, will 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. He said the al­lies had con­firmed their in­ten­tion to meet the goal of two per cent by 2024 and no more.

The emer­gency ses­sion came amid re­ports that Trump had threat­ened to leave the pact if al­lies didn’t im­me­di­ately up their spend­ing. 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.

Still, Trump con­firmed the fears of NATO of­fi­cials and al­lies as he sent the care­fully or­ches­trated sum­mit into chaos.

On Thurs­day, Trump ar­rived late to the of­fi­cial meet­ings, missed sched­uled sit-downs with two al­lies on the mar­gins of the sum­mit, and skipped part of a ses­sion on the NATO mis­sion in Afghanistan to hold the im­promptu news con­fer­ence.

Un­der fire for his warm em­brace of Rus­sia’s Vladimir Putin, Trump on Wednes­day also turned a harsh spot­light on Ger­many’s own ties to Rus­sia, al­leg­ing that a nat­u­ral gas pipe­line ven­ture with Moscow has left An­gela Merkel’s govern­ment “to­tally con­trolled” and “cap­tive” to Rus­sia.

He con­tin­ued the at­tack Thurs­day, com­plain­ing that “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 railed be­fore ar­riv­ing late at NATO head­quar­ters for morn­ing meet­ings with the lead­ers of Azer­bai­jan, Ro­ma­nia, Ukraine and Ge­or­gia.

Dur­ing the trip, Trump ques­tioned the ne­ces­sity of the al­liance that formed a bul­wark against Soviet ag­gres­sion, tweet­ing af­ter a day of con­tentious meet­ings: “What good is NATO if Ger­many is pay­ing Rus­sia bil­lions of dol­lars for gas and en­ergy?”

Merkel, who grew up in com­mu­nist East Ger­many, shot back 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.”

LU­DOVIC MARIN/GETTY IMAGES

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron speaks at a press con­fer­ence on the sec­ond day of the NATO sum­mit on Fri­day. Macron dis­puted U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s claims that NATO coun­tries had agreed to boost de­fence spend­ing be­yond the goal of two per cent of GDP.

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