LONDON – Thumping his chest on the world stage as he faces an impeachment inquiry at home, President Donald Trump claimed credit Tuesday for transforming NATO as the military alliance marks its 70th anniversary. But he also clashed with America's NATO allies, especially French President Emmanuel Macron, about defense spending and the alliance's very mission.
Trump began the first of two days at the NATO conference by publicly rebuking Macron, once arguably his closest European ally, for recently saying the post-World War II alliance was experiencing “brain death” as a result of diminished U.S. leadership under Trump.
“I think that's insulting to a lot of different forces,” Trump said. “It's very disrespectful.” But the president himself has questioned whether the alliance has become “obsolete,” and he accused NATO members anew of shirking national commitments on military spending.
Hours later, Macron and Trump sat side by side for a media session, and Macron said he stood by his comments about the health of the NATO alliance. He also firmly expressed his frustration that Trump withdrew hundreds of American troops from Syria in October.
The U.S. president bantered with reporters for more than two hours, sitting in a salon of Winfield House, the manicured estate of the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, where he also met with NATO leaders.
He slammed the ongoing Democratic-led impeachment inquiry as a “hoax” and professed to be unconcerned about declines in the stock market spurred by his remark that a trade deal with China might not materialize until after the 2020 election.
The gathering of NATO leaders follows Trump's frequent criticism of alliance members as falling well short in doing their financial part through the first three years of his presidency.
After a NATO summit last year, he called for members devote at least 4% of gross domestic product to military spending and took aim at German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom he accused of paying Russia '“billions of dollars for gas and energy” while failing to meet her nation's commitment to spend at least 2% of GDP on defense.
But at this meeting, Trump – who heads toward an election year looking to showcase foreign policy wins – is offering a more optimistic outlook for the alliance's future. To that end, he suggested he deserved much of the credit for progress.
“I don't think frankly before us that NATO was changing at all, and NATO is really changing right now,” Trump said as he sat down for a one-on-one talk with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
White House officials say that before Trump took office just four NATO members had reached the 2% benchmark set in 2014. Now there are nine, Eighteen of the 29 are projected to meet it by 2024.
Stoltenberg said that Trump does deserve credit for nudging members.
“The reality is that, not least because it has been so clearly conveyed from President Trump that we need fair burden sharing, allies are stepping up,” Stoltenberg said.
In his meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump gently ribbed the premier – whose country is spending about 1.3% of GDP on defense – as “slightly delinquent.”
“Some are major delinquent,” Trump said. He added that he's looking at the possibility of imposing unspecified trade penalties against NATO allies that perpetually fall below benchmarks.
“Some are way below 1% and that's unacceptable, and then if something happens we're supposed to protect them and it's not really fair and it never has been fair,” he said.
Trump's talks with Macron were tense at times.
At another point in their extended comments before the news media, Trump and Macron had a curt exchange about the repatriation of Islamic State fighters who are European citizens and were captured in Syria and Iraq in recent years. Trump has pressed unsuccessfully for European nations to accept fighters captured by U.S. forces.
“Would you like some nice ISIS fighters? I can give them to you,” Trump said. “You can take every one you want.”
“Let's be serious,” Macron responded. “Your No. 1 problem are not the foreign fighters.''
Trump retorted, “'That's one of the greatest non-answers I've ever heard. And, that's OK.”
Camp David picked as US host site
LONDON – President Donald Trump said Tuesday he'll host next year's Group of Seven summit at the Camp David presidential retreat, a second choice he's reluctantly embracing after being pressured into nixing plans to host the gathering at one of his private Florida resorts.
The White House had announced plans in October to host the G-7, scheduled for June 10-12, at his Trump National Doral resort near Miami.
But he reversed course following bipartisan concern that he'd violate a clause in the Constitution that prohibits presidents from accepting gifts or payments from governments.