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  1. US President Donald Trump claims victory in NATO spending dispute

US President Donald Trump claims victory in NATO spending dispute

Donald Trump said NATO leaders agreed today to a big boost in defence spending after crisis talks in Brussels, but France's Emmanuel Macron appeared to contradict the US president.

By: | Brussels | Published: July 12, 2018 11:33 PM
Donald Trump, NATO leaders, Emmanuel Macron, Germany, Brussels, Vladimir Putin, Jens Stoltenberg Trump claimed victory after bitterly criticising key allies, notably Germany, for failing to pay their way at one of the most fractious summits in NATO’s 70-year history. (AP)

Donald Trump said NATO leaders agreed today to a big boost in defence spending after crisis talks in Brussels, but France’s Emmanuel Macron appeared to contradict the US president. Trump claimed victory after bitterly criticising key allies, notably Germany, for failing to pay their way at one of the most fractious summits in NATO’s 70-year history. He triggered an emergency session on the spending issue, before emerging from the turmoil to say “I believe in NATO” in response to reports that he had threatened to pull out. “Tremendous progress has been made, everyone’s agreed to substantially up their commitment, they’re going to up it at levels they’ve never thought of before,” Trump told a press conference before leaving for a visit to Britain.

“It’s been amazing to see the level of spirit in that room.” Trump blazed into the summit yesterday by demanding that allies reach their commitment to increase spending to two per cent of GDP “immediately” — instead of by 2024 as previously agreed. He then stunned allies by telling them to eventually double the figure to a punishing four per cent. But Macron disputed Trump’s claims, saying that the joint statement the leaders had signed went no further than what had previously been agreed, apart from setting out how some countries plan to get there.

“The communique is clear: it reaffirms the commitment to two per cent (of GDP),” said Macron, who was photographed smiling and sharing a hug with Trump yesterday despite recent tensions between the two. In an apparent swipe at Trump, he added: “Sometimes the corridors, comments and tweets take on more importance than what is negotiated, said or endorsed by heads of state.”

Macron, however, added that he thought NATO was now “much stronger” and dismissed reports that Trump had threatened to pull the United States out of NATO if the spending row was not resolved. Trump himself said that “the US commitment to NATO remains very strong” and withdrawing was “unneccessary”. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg took a more diplomatic approach on the spending row, saying that Trump was having an “impact” while refusing to confirm any increase beyond what was agreed in the statement.

“We understand this US president is very serious about defence spending and this is having an impact,” Stoltenberg said. “Since President Trump was in Brussels last spring allies have added 41 billion extra for defence spending.” Despite that, Stoltenberg had been forced to call an extraordinary session of all 29 allies to discuss Trump’s demands, in what officials said was one of the first of its kind at a NATO summit for a decade.

Apart from the US, only three NATO countries hit the two-per cent target in 2017 — Britain, Greece and Estonia — but four more are expected to clear the threshold this year. The summit came as transatlantic ties are already under strain due to US trade tariffs, along with fears that Trump’s summit on Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin will pull him further from NATO’s orbit.

With allies fearing he could strike some sort of deal with NATO’s key adversary, Trump said that he saw Putin as a “competitor” but not an “enemy”. Trump insisted that he would bring up key subjects including Syria, although he once again failed to rule out recognising Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He also vowed to raise allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, amid an ongoing US investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Moscow.

Trump himself accused Germany of being a “captive” of Russia due to a multi-billion-dollar pipeline deal, complaining that Germany and other NATO allies “pay only a fraction” of the cost of defending Europe. Trump had explicitly linked NATO with a transatlantic trade row by saying the EU shut out US business while expecting America to defend it, singling out Germany for particular criticism.

“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! All NATO Nations must meet their 2% commitment, and that must ultimately go to 4%!” Trump tweeted this morning before the second day of talks. Trump has said next week’s meeting with Putin “may be the easiest” part of his European tour.

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