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Trump shocks NATO with call to double defense spending target

Angela Merkel et Donald Trump parlent à la presse à l'issue d'un entretien en tête-à-tête au premier jour du sommet de l'Otan à Bruxelles, le 11 juillet 2018
Brendan Smialowski (AFP)

US President Donald Trump stunned a NATO summit Wednesday with a call for the trans-Atlantic allies to boost defense spending to four percent of their countries' GDP. 

The figure is twice what the allies have already pledged to reach by 2024, a target that Trump has blasted the bulk of his NATO allies for not meeting.

"He suggested that countries not only meet their commitment of two percent of the GDP on defense spending, but that they increase it to four percent," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

Shortly after the White House statement, Trump renewed his attack on the alliance's defense spending and Russia's supply of gas to Germany.

"What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy?" the president wrote.

"Why are their only 5 out of 29 countries that have met their commitment? The U.S. is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billions on Trade. Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025."

In a blistering attack over breakfast that set the tone for the tense summit in the Belgian capital Brussels, Trump accused Berlin of being "captive" to Russia and demanded it and other allies immediately step up defense spending.

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev confirmed that Trump had made the demand and asked what it meant for the future of the alliance that has been the bedrock of European security for 70 years.

"NATO is not a stock exchange where you can buy security. NATO is an alliance of sovereign countries united by strategic targets and common values," he told reporters.

'Captive of Russia'

AFP  (AFP)

All 29 NATO leaders including Trump backed a joint statement committing themselves to greater "burden sharing" and to the the alliance's founding commitment that an attack on one member is an attack on them all -- with no mention of the four percent.

Trump arrived on the back of a barrage of criticism of Europe on issues ranging from trade to energy and above all his claims that the continent freeloads on the back of America for its defense.

He then set the tone for the day with a blistering attack on key ally Germany at a breakfast meeting with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.

"Germany is a captive of Russia because it is getting so much of its energy from Russia," Trump said, taking particular aim at the proposed Nord Stream II gas pipeline, which he has previously criticized.

"Everybody's talking about it all over the world, they're saying we're paying you billions of dollars to protect you but you're paying billions of dollars to Russia."

Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, shot back that she knew what it meant to be under Kremlin domination and Germany had the right to make its own policy choices.

"I myself have also experienced a part of Germany being controlled by the Soviet Union," she said.

"I am very glad that we are united today in freedom as the Federal Republic of Germany and that we can therefore also make our own independent policies and make our own independent decisions."

The pair later met for a one-on-one meeting and while Trump insisted they had a "very very good relationship", their frosty body language suggested otherwise.

Merkel said she welcomed the chance to have an "exchange of views" with Trump.

'Very direct language'

Tatyana ZENKOVICH (POOL/AFP)

Trump has long complained that European NATO members do not pay enough for their own defense, singling out Germany for particular criticism.

Germany, Europe's biggest economy, spends just 1.24 percent, compared with 3.5 percent for the US.

Stoltenberg acknowledged that Trump had expressed himself in "very direct language" but insisted that away from the fiery rhetoric the allies all agree on fundamental issues: the need to boost NATO's resilience, fight terror and share the cost of defense more equally.

NATO officials and diplomats will try to promote an image of unity at the summit in the face of growing unease about the threat from Russia, but with the row between Merkel and Trump and the new spending demand mean it may prove difficult to paper over the cracks.

The mercurial tycoon said before leaving Washington that his meeting in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday "may be the easiest" part of his European tour, which also includes a trip to Britain, where the government is in crisis over Brexit.

Trump ramped up his rhetoric ahead of the talks, explicitly linking NATO with the transatlantic trade row by saying the EU shut out US business while expecting America to defend it.

EU President Donald Tusk stepped up to the fight with his own salvo against Trump on Tuesday, telling him to "appreciate your allies" and reminding him Washington that Europe had come to its aid following the 9/11 attacks.

European diplomats fear a repeat of last month's divisive G7 in Canada, when Trump clashed with his Western allies before meeting North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un at a summit and praising him as "very talented".

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