NATO Summit Overshadowed by Renewed Defense Spending Spat

BRUSSELS --- Sharp divisions over who should pay for Europe's defense have overshadowed the opening of the NATO summit in Brussels, after U.S. President Donald Trump accused European allies of taking advantage of American taxpayers.

The U.S. spends about 3.5 percent of GDP on defense, far higher than other member states. It is predicted that eight of the 29 members, including the United States, will meet the NATO target of two percent of GDP this year. The U.S. provides 70 percent of NATO's budget.

But Trump suggested Wednesday that NATO allies commit to spending 4 percent of their GDP on defense by 2024. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that Trump raised the idea at a closed-door meeting with fellow NATO leaders.

"President Trump wants to see our allies share more of the burden and at a very minimum meet their already stated obligations," said Sanders.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg opened proceedings in Brussels with a clear message: This year's summit would focus on who's paying the bill, or in NATO terms, burden-sharing.

"Fair burden-sharing underpins everything that we do. Just a few years ago we were cutting our defense budgets. Now we are adding billions," Stoltenberg said.

Credit for those added billions is being claimed fully by the U.S. president.

"Because of me they've raised about $40 billion over the last year. So I think the secretary-general likes Trump. He may be the only one, but that's okay with me," he told reporters as the summit began.

Alliances and friendships are being sorely tested at the meeting of world leaders. Trump accused Berlin of being under the control of Moscow, citing a new pipeline project that will supply Russian gas directly to Germany.

After a seemingly tense bilateral meeting with her U.S. counterpart, German Chancellor Angela Merkel underlined her country's commitment to NATO.

"It's very important that we have these exchanges together because we are partners, we are good partners and we wish to continue to cooperate in the future," she told reporters.

Singling out Germany isn't necessarily fair, said defense analyst Sophia Besch of the Center for European Reform.

"Germany's contributions to NATO go well beyond what it spends on its own defense. Germany is contributing troops as a lead nation in Lithuania and NATO's forward presence to the east," she said.

The feud over defense spending looks set to overshadow other business at the two-day summit. Britain announced it would double its number of troops in Afghanistan, while Canada offered to lead a NATO training mission in Iraq.

"Now we have to rebuild that democracy and strengthen it. NATO is going to take a significant role in that, and Canada is going to commit 250 troops, a number of helicopters, and we are actually offering to command that mission for the first year," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced at the summit.

A joint summit declaration issued Wednesday underlined NATO's support for Ukraine and its aspirations for membership of the alliance, pending domestic reforms. Ukraine is attending the Brussels summit and further discussions are due to take place Thursday.

The declaration also formally extended an invitation to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to join, as soon as it reaches an acceptable solution to its naming dispute with Greece.

Georgia's future membership also will be discussed Thursday as the summit continues.

Click here for the summit’s final communique (HTML format), on the NATO website.

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After Making Nice with Angela Merkel at NATO Summit, Donald Trump Reignites Spending Spat on Twitter

After praising the US's relationship with Germany, President Donald Trump is accusing the country of skimping on its defense budget. Earlier in the day, he'd put on a smile while addressing reporters with Angela Merkel.

Accusations fly at NATO summit

Wednesday was a back-and-forth day in Brussels for US President Donald Trump, who was in town to eventually discuss NATO business with delegates from the trans-Atlantic alliance's 28 other member countries. First he was mad at Germany, claiming that the country was "captive" to Russia for its concessions in pursuit of a controversial gas pipeline deal. Then, after a public rebuke from Angela Merkel and a sit-down session with the chancellor, the US president was singing a revised tune, saying the bond between the increasingly uneasy allies was bigger — more "tremendous" even — than any differences between the leaders.

"We are having a great meeting," Trump told reporters following his one-on-one with the chancellor. "We are discussing military expenditure, and we are talking about trade. We have a very, very good relationship."

Merkel was more reserved with her assessment, saying the United States and Germany are "good partners, and we wish to continue cooperating in the future."

Once the chancellor was out of earshot, however, and the president was back on the Twitter, he seemed to have once more reappraised the situation, and Germany was in the wrong again. "What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy?" Trump asked rhetorically. "Why are there only 5 out of 29 countries that have met their commitment? The US is paying for Europe's protection, then loses billions on trade. Must pay 2 percent of GDP immediately, not by 2025."

In more official business at the summit on Wednesday, the alliance invited Macedonia to begin accession talks, after the Balkan nation resolved a long-running dispute with neighboring Greece, a NATO member that has a state with a similar name. Officials in Athens had successfully unilaterally blocked Macedonia's candidacy for a decade. The new formal name for what the UN and EU officially label the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) still requires domestic political approval.

'Germany is captive'

The dispute between Trump and Merkel started, as it often does with this US president, with an utterance.

"Germany is captive of Russia because it is getting so much of its energy from Russia," Trump said, referring to Berlin's Nord Stream 2 deal with Moscow. "They pay billions of dollars to Russia, and we have to defend them against Russia."

Berlin hopes the 1,200-kilometer (750-mile) Baltic Sea pipeline will provide direct delivery of more than 55 billion cubic meters (2 trillion cubic feet) of Russian natural gas starting in late 2019.

Merkel cites childhood

The US and some East European countries have criticized the deal, fearing that it could make Germany overly reliant on Russia at a time of heightened diplomatic tensions between Moscow and NATO.

Speaking ahead of her one-on-one meeting with Trump, Merkel pushed back against the president's characterization of Germany as subservient to Russian interests.

"I experienced, in person, that part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union," Merkel, who grew up in Templin in the former East Germany (GDR), said. "I am very happy that today we are united in freedom ... and that we can therefore also say that we conduct independent policies and can take independent decisions."

Defense minister: Look at Germany's output

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels that Germany was "used" to Trump's criticisms and that the country could "cope" with his barbs.

She admitted that his criticism of Germany's low spending on defense was fair, but appealed to his background as a businessman to consider the country's defense contribution in a wider light.

"I'd like to see the businessman Donald Trump not only look at the balance sheet, but at the output," she said, adding that Germany contributed the second-highest number of troops to the alliance and has been its second-largest net contributor.

'Appreciate your allies'

Trump's stinging criticism of Germany came less than a day after he exchanged stern words with European Council President Donald Tusk over EU nations' defense spending.

Shortly before arriving in Brussels, Trump slammed European NATO members for failing to meet the alliance target of spending at least 2 percent of GDP on defense.

"Many countries in NATO, which we are expected to defend, are not only short of their current commitment of 2 percent (which is low) but are also delinquent for many years in payments that have not been made. Will they reimburse the US?" he wrote on Twitter.

In Brussels, Tusk hit back at Trump for "criticizing Europe almost daily" and said the president should acknowledge that the EU is the US's closest ally. "Dear America, appreciate your allies, after all you don't have that many," he said.

Tense talks ahead

Only eight members of the 29-country bloc are expected to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense in 2018: the US, Estonia, Greece, Britain, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania. Germany's defense spending is currently 1.24 percent of its GDP.

The meeting is also be taking place amid heightened tensions over US tariffs on European steel and aluminum imports and Trump's withdrawal from a nuclear deal with Iran that many European countries are eager to save.

In a signal to European allies, the US Senate voted on Tuesday 97-2 in a nonbinding resolution in support of NATO.

Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat lawmakers in the US House of Representatives and Senate, issued a joint statement on Wednesday to take Trump to task for his comments: "President Trump's brazen insults and denigration of one of America's most steadfast allies, Germany, is an embarrassment."

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