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At NATO, Trump calls out allies on unpaid dues while staying mum on joint defense pact

May 25, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
At his first meeting of NATO leaders, President Trump again criticized the allies for falling short on their share of defense spending. Mr. Trump was also the first U.S. president to not explicitly endorse NATO's collective dense clause. Special correspondent Ryan Chilcote, reporting from Brussels, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the reactions from European leaders and more.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: A note of some discord today, as President Trump addressed his first meeting of NATO leaders. He criticized the allies, again, for falling short on their share of defense spending.

From Brussels, special correspondent Ryan Chilcote begins our coverage.

RYAN CHILCOTE: Jets blazed over Brussels and NATO’s gleaming new headquarters this afternoon, the flags of all 28 member states making a show of unity. But a short time earlier, with his fellow leaders looking on, President Trump renewed his longstanding demand: NATO allies must do more.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying for their defense. This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States. And many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years.

RYAN CHILCOTE: The president noted the bloc did, however, shell out for a new home.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I never asked once what the new NATO headquarters cost. I refuse to do that. But it is beautiful.

RYAN CHILCOTE: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking before the president, struck a different note in unveiling a memorial to the Berlin Wall.

CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL, Germany (through interpreter): Our alliance is united in the awareness of the importance of cooperation to insist on freedom. It is not isolation and the building of walls that make us successful, but open societies that share the same values.

RYAN CHILCOTE: NATO’s secretary-general said the unveilings of the wall and wreckage from the World Trade Center in New York signify the importance of the alliance.

JENS STOLTENBERG, Secretary General, NATO: We saw the strength of that bond after the 9/11 attacks, and for the first time, NATO invoked our collective defense clause, Article V, one for all and all for one.

RYAN CHILCOTE: Mr. Trump didn’t explicitly endorse Article V, the first president who hasn’t since the alliance’s founding in 1949. After calling NATO obsolete last year, a comment he’s since walked back, NATO leaders seemed dismayed.

President Trump did, though, appear to push the prime minister of Montenegro aside as leaders moved through a hall, all of this in a city that candidate Trump called a hellhole last year. President Trump has also criticized the European Union, the other big institution headquartered in Brussels, applauding Britain’s decision to exit the bloc.

The E.U.’s two leaders who share the job of running the bloc of 28 countries, the president of the European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, also met President Trump today.

After the meeting, it was clear that differences remained.

DONALD TUSK, President, European Council: Some issues remain open, like climate and trade. And I am not 100 percent sure that we can say today — we means Mr. President and myself — that we have a common position, common opinion about Russia.

RYAN CHILCOTE: The new American president also held his first meeting with France’s newly elected president, Emmanuel Macron. The handshake lasted six seconds, and the 39-year-old Frenchman held his own. In private, the president of France urged Mr. Trump to respect the Paris climate agreement.

Finally, after a long day in Brussels, the president flew on to Sicily for the G7 summit tomorrow.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And a short time ago, I spoke with Ryan Chilcote from Brussels.

Ryan, welcome.

So, how did the European leaders react to President Trump’s criticisms today?

RYAN CHILCOTE: Well, they have been very reserved, very guarded in their response to President Trump’s criticism today.

Don’t forget that a good number of the leaders, in fact, those that President Trump, I think, has been hardest on when it comes to their commitments to NATO, are going to see him in Sicily tomorrow, so they don’t want a spat with President Trump.

But, you know, they will clearly be very disappointed by the criticism today. A lot of them feel that the place where President Trump delivered his criticism was the wrong place to do it, beside this memorial that effectively wasn’t just to U.S. troops, but also to NATO troops who have lost their lives in Afghanistan fighting alongside the United States after NATO invoked Article V.

So they don’t like where the comments were made. And then the other issue, of course, is that many of them disagree that they’re not doing enough or moving in the right direction to support NATO in terms of their military spending. The president pointed out that 23 out of the 28 NATO members are not spending 2 percent of their budgets on the military at this point — of their GDP.

And they will say that, in fact, if you look at the commitment, they have until 2024 to do that. And here at NATO, from the NATO officials I have talked to, they believe that the vast majority of the NATO countries are well on their way with verifiable plans to do that, with the notable exception of Germany.

But they weren’t showing that because they want to work with President Trump, and they clearly believe — and that was very apparent in the language, the body language today — that this is a president that they need to win over. They need to assure him that NATO is something that’s in the United States’ interest.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly, Ryan, you were just in Russia. You covered the Kremlin for, what, 20 years. What do you think Russia, the Russian officials are thinking about today’s meeting?

RYAN CHILCOTE: Well, I wouldn’t say that they would be delighted with today’s meeting, because, of course, they’re never delighted by anything that NATO does. They see NATO as a threat to Russia.

But they will be happier about this meeting than they were about the meeting that we saw last year or the year before. Remember, it was at those meetings that NATO took a very hard line on Russia in the aftermath of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. It was those meetings that led to the deployment of about 3,000 NATO troops, troops under NATO’s command right really at Russia’s border in the Baltic countries and in Poland.

And the fact that we didn’t get that explicit expression of support from Article V from President Trump today, these are the things that the Russians will be very pleased about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, any sense of what the Trump administration, the Trump delegation thinks about all this?

RYAN CHILCOTE: Well, they said that the meeting was a success. Sean Spicer spoke with reporters after. And he said that, you know, the president’s hard line, if you will, the criticism that he has been consistent with for the last year-and-a-half, is really paying dividends.

He said that the meeting, the dinner meeting, tonight started with a discussion about how the countries can share more of the burden, how they can participate in counterterrorism along with the United States. Those have been two key demands from President Trump.

And really, Sean Spicer, for one, played down the idea that President Trump should have explicitly supported or endorsed Article V, you know, saying, look, he was there to dedicate — to read the dedication, to give a speech at a memorial that is called Article V and 9/11. So, of course, the president even by just being here at the NATO meeting supports Article V.

So, he has pushed back on all that. They see the president’s tough line here at NATO and in Europe in general as the right approach, the only way that’s going to get the goods that they want delivered.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ryan Chilcote, covering today’s NATO meeting in Brussels, thank you.

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