President Donald Trump met on Wednesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, hours after he publicly claimed that the longtime US ally was “totally controlled” by and “captive to Russia.” (July 11)
BRUSSELS – President Donald Trump unleashed his most remarkable broadside yet against a European ally on Wednesday, accusing Germany of being “totally controlled by Russia” and of not meeting its obligations to the NATO alliance.
“Germany, as far I’m concerned, is captive to Russia,” Trump said.
Trump’s extraordinary rhetoric signaled that he would continue his aggressive, America-first attitude toward the United States’ closest allies – even as he himself prepares to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week in an effort to improve U.S.-Russian relations.
Speaking to reporters after Trump’s remarks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel shot back that she would not be lectured about Russian control of Germany, having grown up in the Soviet-dominated East Germany.
“I have experienced myself how a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union,” she said, without mentioning Trump by name.
The source of Trump’s ire: German support for a pipeline that would bring Russian natural gas through the Baltic Sea to central Europe, all while Germany spends just 1.24 percent toward the collective defense of NATO allies.
“So we’re supposed to protect Germany, but they’re getting their energy from Russia. Explain that. And it can’t be explained,” he said.
The Nord Stream 2 pipeline is a commercial venture, but the German government has given its approval to the project.
After a face-to-face meeting with Merkel later, Trump said the gas pipeline came up but seemed to shift his tone. “We have a very, very good relationship with the chancellor, we have a tremendous relationship with Germany,” he said.
A stoic Merkel responded, “I am pleased to have this opportunity to be here for this exchange of views.”
Merkel emphasized the German role in fighting alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan and its commitment to the collective defense.
Trump’s verbal attack on Germany came in his first official event in Brussels Wednesday, setting a combative tone for the two-day summit of the alliance in Brussels.
The harsh rhetoric suggested that Trump had no intention of patching up relationships bruised by a contentious Group of Seven summit in Canada last month.
Trump’s comments prompted both the House and Senate to introduce non-binding resolutions affirming U.S. support for the alliance. The Senate resolution passed 97-2.
“I subscribe to the view that we should not be criticizing our president while he is overseas,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “But let me say a couple things. NATO is indispensable. It’s as important today as it ever has been.”
Ryan said he has concerns about the Germany-Russia gas pipeline and has brought those up privately in his own meetings with European allies.
Democrats, however, called Trump’s insults of Germany an “embarassment.”
“His behavior this morning is another profoundly disturbing signal that the president is more loyal to President Putin than to our NATO allies,” said a statement from the House and Senate Democratic leaders, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.
Trump has linked defense and trade issues throughout his presidency, using national security powers to impose tariffs against close allies like Canada and trade deficits as an argument for cutting U.S. defense aid to Europe.
His criticism of German ties to Russia comes five days before he’ll meet one-on-one with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki for their first stand-alone summit since Trump became president.
Trump arrived in Belgium Tuesday night, beginning a seven-day European tour that will also include visits to England and Scotland.
At NATO, Trump pressed his recurring complaint that European allies aren’t paying enough toward the common defense of the alliance. A new NATO analysis released Tuesday shows only five of the 29 allies – the United States, the United Kingdom, Greece, Estonia and Latvia – currently meet the benchmark of 2 percent of economic output spent non defense.
In fact, Trump told the allies in a closed-door meeting, the minimum contribution ought to be 4 percent, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed. At 3.5 percent, even the United States does not currently meet that mark.
“Just look at the chart,” Trump said at he breakfast. “Many countries are not paying what they should. And, frankly, many countries owe us a tremendous amount of money for many years back, where they’re delinquent, as far as I’m concerned, because the United States has had to pay for them.”
That complaint is a misrepresentation of the 2014 agreement reached at a summit in Wales. While each country agreed to strive for the 2 percent mark within 10 years, that spending is supposed to be on their own defense and is not paid to the United States or NATO directly. There was no provision made for making up deficiencies in past years.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg credited Trump with helping to prompt the largest defense buildup in Europe since the end of the Cold War.
“He has a clear message, I think, that has increased interest and understanding of defense spending, and what we’ve seen is that defense spending has started to increase,” Stoltenberg said. “So that’s what I have to say about that.”
In a unanimous joint declaration signed by all 29 allies, NATO reaffirmed the Wales commitments but acknowledged that “unprecedented progress” has been made by that goal.
In other business at the summit, NATO agreed to begin the process of allowing the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to join the alliance as its 30th member — but only if the country changing its name to North Macedonia. Greece has blocked the accession process over the name issue because many Greeks identify as Macedonians.
“There’s no way to join NATO without changing the name,” Stoltenberg said.
The alliance also committed to leave the door open for other countries to join eventually – if they agree to certain political reforms. Those countries include Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia and Ukraine.
Deirdre Shesgreen contributed from Washington.
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