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As NATO’s 70th anniversary summit kicks off, member countries squabble

President Trump arrived in London Monday night for a NATO summit meant to celebrate the alliance’s 70th anniversary. But the meeting’s first day was marred by acrimony among at least three member countries, as Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron traded barbs and Macron lamented Turkey’s purchase of Russian weapons and invasion of northern Syria. Special correspondent Ryan Chilcote reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump today shook up a gathering of world leaders.

    Special correspondent Ryan Chilcote reports on how strained relations across the Atlantic took center stage.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    President Trump arrived last night in London for a NATO summit meant to celebrate the alliance's 70th anniversary. Allies were hoping it wouldn't descend into chaos.

    Come this morning, those hopes were dashed. It was a day marred by acrimony between at least three of NATO's leading countries. At a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, President Trump went first, uncharacteristically defending the alliance, while lashing out at the president of France for having labeled NATO brain-dead in a recent interview.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Nobody needs NATO more than France. And, frankly, the one that benefits really the least is the United States.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    The NATO chief listening on, the president railed against what he sees as NATO countries freeloading on the back of U.S. military spending, and repeatedly schooled his French counterpart, threatening retaliation for a new French tax on American tech companies.

  • President Donald Trump:

    That is a very — very, very nasty statement. They're starting to tax other people's products, so, therefore, we go and tax them, which is taking place right now on technology. And we're doing their wines and everything else.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    In early afternoon, the two sat down for a tense tete-a-tete. President Macron didn't back down.

  • President Emmanuel Macron:

    I know that my statements created some reactions and shake a little bit a lot of people.

    I do stand by it. And I have to say, when you look at what NATO is and should be, first of all, this is a burden we share.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    The French president then took a swipe at Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who in the lead-up to the meeting called President Macron himself brain-dead.

  • President Emmanuel Macron:

    When I look at Turkey, they now are fighting against those who fight with us, who fought with us. And, sometimes, they work with ISIS forces.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    ISIS was even a bone of contention between the French and American presidents.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Would you like some nice ISIS fighters? I can give them to you. You can take — you can take everyone you can.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    President Macron responded sternly.

  • President Emmanuel Macron:

    Let's be serious.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    And Trump shot back.

  • President Donald Trump:

    That was one of the greatest non-answers I have ever heard.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Meantime, to round out the roundhouse punching, before leaving for London, President Erdogan promised to block NATO plans if the alliance doesn't label the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the YPG a terrorist group. It's a U.S. partner in the fight against ISIS and Turkey's enemy in Syria.

  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (through translator):

    If our friends at NATO do not recognize as terrorist organizations those against whom we carry out fights against terrorism, then, excuse me, we will stand against any that will be taken there.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    While the public spat between other NATO leaders is unusual, President Trump's unconventional demeanor with allies is not new.

    Two years ago, at his first NATO meeting, the president appeared to shove the prime minister of Montenegro. And, last year, he told NATO leaders that if they didn't spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense, the U.S. would go it alone.

  • President Donald Trump:

    But I'm not negotiating.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    In another veiled threat he appeared to make today in a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the president suggested the U.S. wouldn't necessarily defend NATO allies who don't pay the 2 percent.

  • President Donald Trump:

    And, you know, I'm going to be discussing that today.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    White House officials say the president's combative approach to American allies is paying off.

    In 2016, just four of the 29 NATO countries met the 2 percent threshold. Today, that number stands at nine. By 2024, the Trump administration says the number will have risen to 18.

    At an event on the meeting's sidelines, the NATO chief, tasked with wrangling its headstrong leaders, praised the alliance, despite today's circular firing squad.

  • Jens Stoltenberg:

    I'm a politician, and I'm used to be criticized for having good rhetoric, rhetorics, but bad substance. NATO is the opposite.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    At a Buckingham Palace reception hosted by the queen, NATO leaders had plenty to chew over. On the allies' plates, disagreement too on China. President Trump wants the alliance to take a tougher stance on China and refrain from buying its 5G technology, but many of the European allies oppose that idea.

    For a nightcap, an angelic holiday choir greeted squabbling allies at 10 Downing Street, home to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who hosted the leaders, at least three of whom didn't go gently into that good night.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Ryan Chilcote joins me now.

    Ryan, how unusual was it for President Trump to criticize President Macron as he did?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Well, I think it's pretty unusual in any circumstances, and particularly in this case, because, after all, you would kind of expect President Trump to call NATO brain-dead. He's been calling the alliance obsolete for many years.

    What President Macron really meant when he gave that interview a month ago and made that comment about NATO being brain-dead was that European countries need to do more in terms of their own defense and that NATO — European NATO countries can't necessarily rely on the United States to come to their defense.

    Well, even today, President Trump intimated that last point, that, if NATO countries weren't paying their fair share, the U.S. might not come to their defense. And he has always said that NATO countries, European NATO countries should be spending more on it.

    So, I think that was pretty surprising.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, you know, Ryan, you have obviously covered a number of NATO meetings over the years. How is this one different?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Look, this is President Trump's third NATO summit. So if the other NATO leaders were surprised by his unconventional approach to diplomacy in the past, they certainly weren't this time.

    In fact, some NATO officials even told us that the — this meeting was designed in a way to kind of keep everything scripted. As you know, obviously, President Trump went off-script, but, again, not a huge surprise.

    What is different, I think, Judy, this time is that we had a number over leaders squabbling amongst themselves. And I think that — if you were just listen to the rhetoric kind of makes you think that maybe NATO itself is coming undone at the seams, though, when it comes to policy, NATO is definitely very united.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And finally, Ryan, what do you look for tomorrow?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Well, given all the division that we had today, I will certainly be looking to see if we have any fireworks tomorrow, more fireworks.

    The only fireworks that there should be would be because this meeting is supposed to be celebrating NATO's 70 years of unity. Beyond that, I will look at burden-sharing. President Trump was talking about it today. Actually, the conversation began many years ago and really intensified after President Putin's annexation of Crimea.

    I'm sure we will hear more about that tomorrow. China, the United States calls China a developing threat. Not all of the NATO countries agree. And, finally, the president is having, well, what you could say would be his fourth press conference after three today, a press conference tomorrow that will begin just one half-hour after the impeachment hearing begins.

    So I think tomorrow might be another day when we all have split-screen on our TV screens again — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No question about it. Interesting timing.

    Ryan Chilcote, reporting from London, thank you, Ryan.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Thank you.

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