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17th of July 2018

Economy



Donald Trump gives final tongue-lashing to Nato allies

Demetri Sevastopulo and Michael Peel in Brussels and Guy Chazan in Berlin

July 12, 2018 Print this page

President Donald Trump rounded on his fellow leaders in a chaotic final meeting of the Nato summit on Thursday before emerging to claim they had agreed to “substantially up” their defence spending.

Mr Trump’s assertion of new expenditure commitments was swiftly contradicted by French president Emmanuel Macron and Italy’s prime minister Giuseppe Conte while German chancellor Angela Merkel gave only a vague assurance that her country needed to do more.

European leaders had expected a less contentious second day of talks in Brussels after Mr Trump agreed to a statement on Wednesday restating that each country needed to spend 2 per cent of their national income on defence. But they were treated to a tongue-lashing as Mr Trump went round the room lambasting his peers.

“He listed their sins,” said one person who described the meeting as chaotic.

“The leaders came out of the meeting shaking their heads, saying it had all gone crazy,” said a European diplomat briefed on proceedings.

A Nato diplomat said: “It was even more a frank discussion [than yesterday]. It was less scripted. So it became more passionate — on all sides.”

Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general, shifted the meeting into emergency session so that only Nato leaders and one other official from each country remained. Ukrainian and Georgian representatives were asked to leave. Mr Stoltenberg’s move sparked rumours that Mr Trump had threatened to pull the US out of Nato.

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Later, at an impromptu press conference Mr Trump said: “I told people that I would be very unhappy if they didn’t up their commitments very substantially … and countries are going to start upping their commitments.”

No sooner had Mr Trump departed the summit, however, than some of the other leaders suggested that the alliance had only agreed to “redouble” their efforts to boost spending without making any commitments.

Mr Macron described the meeting as a “moment of truth” about burden sharing, but dismissed suggestions that the allies had agreed to go beyond the 2 per cent goal.

“Today we are sticking to our commitments and now we have to deliver,” Mr Macron said.

Mr Conte said his government had “inherited spending commitments to Nato, commitments that we did not change, so no increase in spending.”

Ms Merkel acknowledged the need to address the issue, but indicated there had been no additional spending commitment. “We presented the current situation,” she said. “But considering the discussion among the European allies, not only the Americans, I think we need to ask ourselves consistently what more we can do.”

Sarah Sanders, White House press secretary, told the Financial Times that Mr Trump had “expressed his frustration with countries not meeting their obligations and commitments but the request to have a session focused on the defence spending came from Chancellor Merkel”.

Mr Stoltenberg attempted to downplay the divisions and fears for the unity of the transatlantic alliance.

“That discussion has made Nato stronger. It has created a new sense of urgency,” Mr Stoltenberg said. “We will redouble our efforts … it shows that the clear message from President Trump is having an impact.”

Mr Trump had suggested that Mr Stoltenberg would release some details that would show how he had convinced the other members to spend more. But Mr Stoltenberg pointed only to the extra money that Nato members had agreed to spend on defence since Mr Trump was elected president.

After a rancorous opening day, tensions appeared to ease over dinner on Wednesday night. According to a European diplomat, Mr Trump was very polite, although some of the guests braced themselves for an eruption at any moment.

The diplomat said “no one wanted to rock the boat” and the other leaders “massaged” Mr Trump by asking about his recent summit with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un.

The dinner proved to be an interlude. Nato leaders and their officials departed Brussels on Thursday with Mr Trump’s criticism ringing in their ears,

“All the allies know they are under scrutiny,” said a Nato diplomat. “They know they are under the microscope. This is not going to go away.

Additional reporting by Adam Samson in London

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo and Michael Peel on Twitter: @dimi and @mikepeeljourno 

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