pressured allies at the NATO summit Wednesday to double the military-spending target to 4% of gross domestic product, while bashing Germany for its military spending and support for a major gas deal with Russia.
Mr. Trump’s decision to tell NATO leaders in a meeting that the 2024 spending target was too low, a White House official confirmed, came after months of attacks by the president against allies for not meeting the 2% target.
described a tense response among leaders to Mr. Trump’s suggestion. “Everybody asked themselves how serious Trump is about the 4%.”
Despite Mr. Trump’s comments, the leaders on Wednesday agreed to a joint summit declaration, which recommitted the 29 members to moving toward the 2% target by 2024 and welcomed progress made in raising military spending.
Mr. Trump touted the U.S.’s military spending, while saying the country should spend less and calling for allies to up their spending.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary-General
asked about raising the military spending target later Wednesday, said: “I think we should first get to 2%. … My focus is on that.”
Pentagon officials appeared surprised by Mr. Trump’s suggestions and said they had no immediate response. A June 2018 NATO report about member contributions to the organization says the U.S. spent 3.5 % of its GDP.
is currently in Brussels but has no public appearances planned.
Mr. Trump began his visit by accusing Germany of being “captive to Russia” because of its support for Nord Stream 2, an offshore pipeline that would bring gas directly from Russia via the Baltic Sea.
Speaking in a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Mr. Trump called Germany’s support for the project “very sad,” and said, “We’re supposed to be guarding against Russia, and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia.”
Turning to Mr. Stoltenberg, he said: “Explain that.”
Mr. Trump also criticized Germany’s military spending as “inappropriate,” and called for NATO allies to increase their spending while saying the U.S. was “spending far too much.”
Ms. Merkel responded that Germany is the second-largest provider of NATO troops, after the U.S. Recalling her own experience living in a part of Germany that was controlled by the Soviet Union, she said, “I am very happy today that we are united in freedom…Because of that, we can say that we can make our independent policies and make independent decisions.”
The exchange deepened the tense atmosphere surrounding the summit, where leaders had been bracing themselves following months of attacks from Mr. Trump on allies’ military spending levels, and dashed the hopes of diplomats and some U.S. officials for a meeting that would showcase unity ahead of Mr. Trump’s meeting with Russian President
A NATO official said that expectations were very low for the summit, given Mr. Trump’s unabashed criticism of Germany. “The mood ahead of the G-7 was also quite bad and still it ended worse than expected,” the official said.
Mr. Trump and Ms. Merkel met later Wednesday on the sidelines of the summit, where Mr. Trump said he again raised his concerns about German support for the Russian gas deal. Speaking to reporters toward the end of the meeting, Mr. Trump struck a friendlier tone than earlier in the day, describing his relationship with Ms. Merkel as “very, very good” and the bond between the two nations as “tremendous.”
Ms. Merkel told reporters she was happy she had the talk with Mr. Trump, as “we are good partners and we wish to continue to cooperate in the future.”
The two leaders have had a tense relationship under the Trump administration, as Mr. Trump has repeatedly attacked Germany’s military spending and immigration policies. The pair at one point went five months without speaking—a rarity for two nations that have been close allies in recent decades.
In Washington, Democratic lawmakers issued a rebuke of Mr. Trump’s comments. Senate Minority Leader
(D, N.Y.) and House Minority Leader
(D., Calif.) said, “President Trump’s brazen insults and denigration of one of America’s most steadfast allies, Germany, is an embarrassment.”
Mr. Trump’s criticism of Germany’s relationship with Russia comes days before he is set to meet with Mr. Putin in Helsinki in an effort to reset U.S. relations with Moscow. He has met frequent criticism in Washington for appearing overly friendly toward Mr. Putin, including when he congratulated the Russian leader on his election victory earlier this year despite being advised by national security officials not to do so.
Many NATO allies also are wary of Mr. Trump’s efforts to improve relations with Mr. Putin, whom he has often praised even during a continued investigation into Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election. Several nations, including the U.K., expressed concern about Mr. Trump’s call earlier this year for Russia to rejoin the G-7, four years after it was expelled over its annexation of Crimea.
German Defense Minister
Ursula von der Leyen
said of Mr. Trump’s comments on the gas project: “I don’t really understand what he means by that,” and Germany’s Economics Ministry dismissed Mr. Trump’s claims. Spokeswoman Beate Baron said the country had diversified its resources by ramping up renewable energy production and would continue to cut its reliance on imports.
Germany is the biggest importer of natural gas from Russia in the EU, accounting for more than 20% of the purchases in 2017 by the 28-member bloc, according to the EU’s statistics agency Eurostat. Russian imports made up about 40% of Germany’s annual gas purchases for the past two years.
After leaving the NATO summit early Thursday afternoon, Mr. Trump will continue his seven-day swing through Europe with a meet in London with U.K. Prime Minister
before Traveling on to Scotland, where he owns two golf courses, and finally Helsinki.
In recent weeks, Mr. Trump has clashed with several of the world leaders attending the NATO summit. Following the G-7 summit in Canada last month, the president tweeted that Canadian Prime Minister
was “dishonest” and “weak.” He also tangled with French President Emmanuel Macron over tariffs, after Mr. Macron said the six other nations would band together without the U.S. if necessary.
Mr. Trump met with Mr. Macron later Wednesday, after which they both praised their relationship. Toward the end of the meeting, Mr. Macron was asked whether he agreed with the president’s description of Germany as “captive” to Russia. Mr. Macron said he didn’t. Reporters were ushered out soon after.
As Mr. Trump shook hands with Mr. Stoltenberg at the outset of their meeting Wednesday morning, he quipped that the secretary-general liked him.
“He may be the only one,” Mr. Trump added. “But that’s OK with me.”
—Robert Wall, Laurence Norman and Andrea Thomas contributed to this article.
Source : WSJ