Donald Trump claims victory in Nato spending row amid reports he threatened to pull US out of alliance
Donald Trump has said that the United States’ commitment to Nato "remains very strong", after he claimed member countries agreed to his demands to increase funding for defence.
Mr Trump refused to deny that he had threatened to pull the US out of the organisation, and said the atmosphere in the meeting was "a little tough for a little while," but cordial after the spending commitments went up "like a rocket ship".
The US president has railed repeatedly about Nato members failing to meet the agreed spending commitment of two per cent of GDP on defence. On Thursday morning he claimed victory, saying that nations had finally agreed to up their expenditure.
"Everyone in the room thanked me," he said. "There is a great collegial atmosphere in that room, that I don’t think they’ve had for many years."
Asked directly whether he had threatened to withdraw, he replied: "I told people I’d be very unhappy if they didn’t up their commitment. Yesterday I let them know I was extremely unhappy."
Mr Trump’s claims of victory were tempered by Emmanuel Macron, the French president, who denied that Nato allies agreed to boost defence spending, referring to an existing communique setting out a goal of all members reaching two per cent of GDP spending by 2024.
Mr Macron also poured cold water on the suggestion Mr Trump had threatened to pull out of Nato if he didn’t get the commitments he wanted. "President Trump never at any moment, either in public or in private, threatened to withdraw from NATO," Mr Macron told reporters.
Mr Trump claimed his emphatic victory in an extensive and freewheeling press conference that followed what appeared to be a fraught morning of negotiations.
He said that Jens Stolenberg, the Nato secretary-general, credited him for changing the dynamic in the organisation, and increasing funding.
Nato defence expenditure and major annual exercises involving US troops
"Nato is much stronger than it was two days ago," Mr Trump declared.
"We had a fantastic meeting at the end. Germany has increased very substantially what it is doing. I brought it up, no one brought it up but me.
"And frankly maybe everyone is going to have a good relationship with Russia."
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Responding to questions about his meeting with Vladimir Putin, scheduled for Monday in Helsinki, Mr Trump said: "He’s a competitor. He’s representing Russia. I’m representing America. It’s not a question of a friend or enemy."
He said he "hoped to be able to get along" with the Russian leader.
Reports of Mr Trump’s threats to Nato members surfaced on Friday morning as it emerged Nato leaders, gathered in Brussels, held an unplanned emergency meeting.
Mr Trump repeated demands on the second day of the summit for countries to meet a spending target of two percent of GDP now, instead of by 2024, and to eventually double spending to four per cent.
Mr Trump’s demands prompted leaders to huddle in a special session excluding other summit participants, sources told Reuters.
At one point, in a break with diplomatic protocol, a source said Mr Trump addressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel by her first name and told her: "Angela, you need to do something about this."
Invited leaders from non-Nato countries Afghanistan and Georgia were asked to leave along with most Nato leaders’ retinues of officials, as the heads of state and government of the Western alliance sought to deal with the man whose nation commands much of the budget and forces for Europe’s defence.
Nato | Did Trump threaten to pull out?
Mr Trump had opened the first day of talks in Brussels on Wednesday with a public diatribe against Germany, the second biggest state in the Western defence alliance, before the mood appeared to have calmed as the summit went into its second day, focusing on operations beyond Europe.
But, several sources said, Mr Trump instead reopened in strong terms his demand that other countries greatly speed up their progress toward a Nato target of spending at least two percent of their GDP on defence, which now has a deadline of 2024 with get-out terms available that can stretch it to 2030.
"The language was much tougher today," one source told Reuters. "His harshest words were directed at Germany, including by calling her Angela –‘You, Angela.’"
As well as Ms Merkel, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Charles Michel, the prime minister of Belgium, were also singled out by Mr Trump for undershooting on their spending targets when US taxpayers, funding a defence budget worth about 3.6 per cent of their national income, foot much of Nato’s bills.
Breaking from a carefully scripted session that was to focus on Ukraine and Georgia, one source said Mr Trump "forcibly restated his position on wanting Nato members to reach 2 percent spending target to a short a deadline".
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Mr Trump singled out Mrs Merkel a day after saying Berlin had become a "captive of Russia" because of a gas pipeline deal and should be paying more for defence.
Mr Stoltenberg told a news conference following the summit: "We had a very frank and open discussion… That discussion has made NATO stronger. It has created a new sense of urgency.
"The fact that we had this open discussion has also clearly stated that we will redouble our efforts and it also shows that a clear message from President Trump is having an impact."
On Thursday afternoon Mr Trump landed in the UK, and brushed off the threat of protests.
"I think it’s fine," he said. "I think they like me a lot in the UK. I think they agree with me on immigration."
He said that immigration was "taking over Europe".
Asked whether he supported a hard Brexit, he laughed and said he thought the reporter asked if he was "heartbroken".
The US president appeared not to be aware of the term "hard Brexit", and said it was a decision for the British people, who had voted for Brexit.
"You use a term hard Brexit – I assume that’s what you mean," he said.
"I just want the people to be happy. They are great people. I assume there will be protests – there are always protests."
The US president is due to meet Mr Putin in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday.
Mr Trump told reporters after the Nato summit that he will raise election meddling and arms control when he meets the Russian president.
Mr Trump also said he was "not happy about Crimea", although he once again failed to rule out recognising Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian region.
The US president described the up-coming summit with Mr Putin as a "loose meeting" and said "we’ll see where it leads," adding: "I think meeting with people is great."