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As Trump slams NATO, ambassador says Europeans are ‘stepping up’ on funding

President Donald Trump has often criticized America’s European allies for not paying their share to NATO. But the nations are “stepping up,” even if they haven’t yet reached their target contribution to the military alliance, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison told PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff on Monday.

“The United States is spending far more on NATO than any other Country,” the president tweeted on Monday, ahead of his appearance at the alliance’s summit this week in Belgium.

“By some accounts, the U.S. is paying for 90% of NATO, with many countries nowhere close to their 2% commitment,” he said in a tweet.

When asked about the president’s tweets, Hutchison said the U.S. portion of NATO’s common funding is capped at 22 percent, but that the U.S. contributes to other security costs in Europe, where it has military and diplomatic presence. “So I don’t know exactly what he is putting together in that … but I know that there are many different areas where we are a dual purpose,” she said.

Each country in NATO has pledged to spend 2 percent of their respective GDPs on defense support.

“Certainly, the president has been very plainspoken about asking our allies to do more,” Hutchison said from Brussels, noting that other former presidents, including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, did the same.

“I believe that [the European NATO members] are stepping up. It’s not as much as 2 percent yet, but I think they will recommit more to do more because they realize that Europe does need to do more and they are the strongest of the economies in Europe,” Hutchison added.

Other highlights from the interview:

  • On Russian President Vladimir Putin: Hutchison said she wouldn’t describe Putin in the complimentary terms Trump uses, but that it’s not unusual for NATO countries to meet with Putin in the interest of dialogue. Trump is planning a one-on-one meeting with Putin in Finland on July 16, following the NATO summit. Russia is not a member of NATO. “[Trump] is going to talk to Russia, to Putin about his malign influence in so many areas,” she said. “I think what the president is trying to do is sit down with him and say ‘you need to come in a different direction. You are not behaving like a leader in the world, and we need you to do differently, to do better.’”
  • On Ukraine: NATO members believe Ukraine is a sovereign nation that should have the ability to rule itself and have its own government, Hutchison said. “And we’ve been encouraging Ukraine at every level, at NATO and in the United States, to reform its government to give the power to the people to have a rule of law. And I think that all of us in NATO are united in backing Ukraine for its reforms and to be able to get the Russian encroachment on Ukraine reversed.”
  • On Crimea: Trump has increased the U.S. military presence in Europe after the “annexation illegally of Crimea by Russia,” Hutchison said. Russia is “trying to split our alliance,” but “it is too strong,” she added.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump will meet with leaders of NATO nations later this week in Brussels, Belgium.

    Mr. Trump has blasted the alliance repeatedly, as he did again today, focusing on what he sees as lack of financial commitment from other nations.

    To talk about that and other matters under discussion at the summit, I was joined earlier from Brussels by the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison.

    Madam Ambassador, let me ask you about the NATO meeting this week. President Trump will be there.

    In brief, what's the U.S. goal for this meeting?

  • Kay Bailey Hutchison:

    The U.S. goal is the strength and unity of this alliance.

    And so much of what we have done this year is to affirm this alliance and strengthen it. We are looking at a very strong capability of what we call the four 30s. And that is 30 battalions, 30 air squadrons, 30 ships in 30 days, meaning that we could respond to any crisis in any of our 29 countries with that kind of a force.

    It is a deterrent to any adversary. And that is something that we will produce, a new command structure that gets there. It's a goal that is worthy. And I think that we're going to show an alliance strength and most certainly unity.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, President Trump has repeatedly criticized the NATO allies for not paying their fair share of the defense of Europe. Just today, he's tweeting more about it.

    And, at one point, he tweeted that the U.S. is paying 90 percent of the cost of supporting NATO. Is that a fact?

  • Kay Bailey Hutchison:

    Well, the U.S. part of the NATO common funding is 22 percent, and it is capped at that.

    Of course, we do have other forces that are not just for European security, but are for our forward presence. I don't know where he is looking for the 70 to 90 percent, but I know that there are many different areas where we dual-purposed.

    We are enhancing the security of Europe because of the Russian takeover of Crimea, but we also have hospitals in Germany that service our American injured forces.

    The alliance is strong when we are 29 talking. And I think the president believes that as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, in connection with that, the president went on to tweet today. He said it's not fair, it's not acceptable that these countries are not paying what he called their fair share.

    He — and at another point over the weekend, he talked about the — he said, the Europeans are killing us on trade.

    You put all that together, he's clearly pressuring them to do more in terms of the defense of the alliance. What does that mean the U.S. will do if the Germans in particular don't increase their share?

  • Kay Bailey Hutchison:

    Certainly, the president has been very plainspoken about asking our allies to do more.

    Every president with whom I served in the Senate did the same thing. President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama all have said Europe needs to do more. And Chancellor Merkel has also said to her own Bundestag, their parliament, that they need to do more.

    I believe that they are stepping up. It's not as much as 2 percent yet. But I think they will recommit more to do more, because they realize that Europe does need to do more and they are the strongest of the economies in Europe.

    So I think that they are saying the right things. They're saying they're going to do more. And I think we need to continue to encourage them to do that, because they have capabilities. And we need every capability we can have to deter Russia, to deter counterterrorism, which is in all of our interests.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There is concern, Ambassador Hutchison, among those who watch NATO closely that the president has this one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin, Russia's leader, next Monday.

    They're concerned that he is going to go along with what Mr. Putin wants in terms of letting Russia keep its claim to Crimea to stay in Ukraine, undercutting NATO. Should they be concerned about that?

  • Kay Bailey Hutchison:

    Judy, it's hard to know all of the subjects that will come up.

    But what the president has put out is that he is going to talk to Russia, to Vladimir Putin, about his malign influence in so many areas. We have had hybrid activities in many of our countries, including the United States. And we most certainly are concerned about Russia's violation of the INF Treaty.

    That is a ballistic missile system that they have agreed not to do, and they're violating it. What they're doing in Syria, what they're doing in Afghanistan. There are many subjects that we need to bring Russia to the table to talk about.

    And I think what the president is trying to do is sit down with him and say, you need to come in a different direction. You are not behaving like a leader in the world, and we need you to do differently, to do better.

    That's what I think he is saying. And I think that all of us believe that the Ukraine is a sovereign nation that should have the ability to rule itself and have its own government. All of us in NATO are united in backing Ukraine for its reforms and to be able to get the Russian encroachment on Ukraine reversed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, as you know, the president just a few days ago called Vladimir Putin a fine man, which you have said in interviews of the last — since then that you wouldn't have used those words.

    But, in that regard, Chancellor Merkel is saying, because of the Russian threat,what NATO needs to do now is focus on defending the alliance more, thinking about a greater presence in Central Europe and Eastern Europe.

    Is President Trump going to go along with that?

  • Kay Bailey Hutchison:

    Well, President Trump himself increased our enhanced presence in Europe because of the Russian activities.

    We know that Russia is looking and probing for weaknesses in our alliance. The enhanced presence that we have in Europe after the annexation illegally of Crimea by Russia is important. I think the president has committed to that.

    Chancellor Merkel has as well, as well as the other European allies. Vladimir Putin cannot strain or divide our NATO alliance. It is too strong and its history is a good history of an alliance that works.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    U.S. Ambassador to NATO, getting prepared for this week's meetings, Kay Bailey Hutchison, thank you very much.

  • Kay Bailey Hutchison:

    OK. Thank you, Judy.

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