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Did Trump’s prodding for NATO defense spending work?

Veering between tense talks and tough tweets, President Trump capped off a tumultuous two-day summit with a surprise news conference, in which he claimed victory in his campaign to make NATO allies spend more on defense. Judy Woodruff learns more from Yamiche Alcindor and special correspondent Ryan Chilcote about whether his tactics worked and what’s ahead on his trip to the UK.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The NATO summit has ended, and President Trump says he got what he wanted. He says America’s European friends will shell out more for their militaries, but there is disagreement over how much and how soon.

    Yamiche Alcindor is in Brussels, and she begins our coverage.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I believe in NATO.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president capped a tumultuous two-day summit with that pledge. At a surprise news conference, he claimed victory in his campaign to make NATO allies spend more on defense. He wouldn’t say directly if he had threatened to abandon the alliance.

    Did you ever at any point say that the U.S., though, might stop engaging with NATO? And do you think that your rhetoric helps NATO cohesion, or are you worried that people might think that the U.S. is going to not be as committed to NATO?

  • President Donald Trump:

    Well, they were probably worried, because the United States wasn’t being treated fairly, but now we are, because the commitment has been upped so much. But I can you tell you that NATO now is a really a fine-tuned machine. People are paying money that they never paid before.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Mr. Trump was also questioned about whether he could withdraw from NATO without congressional approval.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I think I probably can. But that’s unnecessary. And the people have stepped up today like they have never stepped up before.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But other leaders disagreed about whether President Trump’s claims on defense spending were true.

    French President Emmanuel Macron, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, and Italy’s Giuseppe Conte all said there was no new agreement to spend more, beyond the existing goal of 2 percent of GDP.

  • Emmanuel Macron (through translator):

    We had a very frank and open discussion on burden-sharing both yesterday and today.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    At his own briefing, the NATO secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, dodged specifics.

  • Jens Stoltenberg:

    We understand that this American president is very serious about defense spending, and this is having a clear impact.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Also having an impact, a unique diplomatic approach to NATO. The president insisted it worked.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I think it’s been a very effective way of negotiating. Now, what has happened is presidents over many years, from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, they came in, they said, OK, hey, do the best you can, and they left. Nobody did anything about it. We had a really good meeting today. We had a great meeting in terms of in terms of getting along.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Mr. Trump was late to that first meeting of the day, which focused on Ukraine and Georgia. Those two countries are engaged in conflict with Russia and they aspire to NATO membership.

    On Monday, in Finland, Mr. Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said would agree bring up the 2016 election interference.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I think we go into that meeting not looking for so much. We want to find out about Syria. And we will, of course, ask your favorite question about meddling. All I can do is say, did you? And don’t do it again. But he may deny. I mean, we will — you will be the first to know, OK?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But NATO allies have expressed serious concerns about that meeting. The alliance was created to check Soviet aggression. Now, with Russia again flexing its muscles in Europe, Mr. Trump was questioned today about he regards Putin’s regime as a threat.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Somebody was saying, is he an enemy? He’s not my enemy. Is he a friend? No, I don’t know him well enough. I hope we get along well. I think we get along well. But, ultimately, he’s a competitor. He’s representing Russia.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    What would you say to your critics that say by creating this scene here at NATO, you’re only enabling President Putin and Russia to further disturb things in Ukraine and Georgia?

  • President Donald Trump:

    Well, if you consider putting up tremendously, you know, additional funds at a level that nobody’s ever seen before, I don’t think that’s helping Russia. I think that NATO is much stronger now than it was two days ago.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But before Putin comes a visit to Britain, and trading one tense setting for another, as the president left Brussels for London. Tens of thousands of protesters greeted his arrival.

  • Man:

    His policies are totally abhorrent, his policy of — which I think are racist.

  • Woman:

    He’s got a right to come here, and Theresa May has got a right to welcome him, and we have a right to tell him that we don’t like him and we don’t really want him in our shores.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Mr. Trump dismissed the protesters at his Brussels news conference. He also said he believes many in Britain agree with his views on immigration, and that he’d offered a warning to the allies.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I told them today, the E.U., the European Union, better be very careful, because immigration is taking over Europe. And they better be very, very careful. And I said that loud and clear.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Tonight, the president attended a welcome ceremony and a black tie dinner with Prime Minister Theresa May. Tomorrow, he meets Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And joining me now from Brussels is our Yamiche Alcindor, and, in London, where President Trump arrived this morning, Ryan Chilcote.

    Hello to both of you.

    Yamiche, to you first. I know the press got only a very short amount of notice this morning before the president’s news conference there in Brussels. But what I want to ask is, what has been the reaction there among the NATO allies to what the president had to say, and what have you been able to learn about his entire approach at the NATO meeting?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    He really upended everything that happened at NATO today. I was working in the press filing center with a lot of other reporters, and we were pulled aside really quickly and told, hey, something’s happening, there’s going to possibly be a press conference, go, and set up.

    Once we rushed in there, all the foreign press realized that White House press was on the move, and as a result, it became this spectacle, almost, of everyone rushing to see President Trump, everyone wanting to know what he had to say.

    And he spoke for 35 minutes. He was enjoying himself up there. He wasn’t just taking questions from the White House press corps and a few other reporters, which is what American presidents often do.

    And the thing that was really important was that President Trump doubled down on the fact that he wanted to increase defense funding. And after his press conference, his surprise press conference, NATO’s secretary-general said President Trump’s tactic was actually working, that there were a lot of countries that were getting together in a last-minute meeting and saying that they were going to put together credible national plans to up their defense spending by 2024.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And when that was over, Ryan, he flew straight to London, to the United Kingdom. What’s the story there?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Well, President Trump continues to be in a very good mood. And you could certainly tell that from the beaming smile he had on his face when he arrived at Blenheim Palace for that black tie dinner this evening.

    Blenheim Palace is the birthplace of Winston Churchill, Winston Churchill, of course, the prime minister that coined the phrase the special relationship to describe the relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. back in 1946.

    And President Trump is a big fan, and he’s wanted to go to that palace and have a big dinner at that palace ever since the prime minister here, Theresa May, invited him 18 months ago.

    So he’s thrilled. Now, the mood of the people, well, that is a bit little different. If you remember, that invitation a year-and-a-half ago sparked huge protests in this country. And the visit itself was downgraded from a state visit, a real big honor, a very kind of special visit with lots of pomp and circumstance, to a working visit.

    And it was postponed and canceled. And yet there are still going to be protests. There were a few hundred people outside of Blenheim Palace this evening, despite the fact that it’s in the middle of the English countryside. And we’re expecting a big protest here in London.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Yamiche, back to you.

    We know one of Prime Minister Theresa May’s concerns is about what the president has been saying and may be doing with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. He’s going to meet him on Monday. He was praising him again today. What do we know about the plans for that meeting?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, President Trump had really nice words to say about Russia, and he refused to commit to not recognizing the annexation of Crimea and Crimea as part of Russia.

    That’s a big deal. Now, he did sign onto a NATO joint statement where all 29 members say that they agree that they wouldn’t recognize Crimea as part of Russia. However, when President Trump was pushed to talk about his personal views and to talk about whether or not, when he sat down with President Putin, that he was going to make sure he stuck to that, he wouldn’t commit to that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ryan, and one last thing. Before the president left Brussels this morning, he talked about — at one point, he said he doesn’t think the British voters are going to get the kind of Brexit they want, exit from the European Union.

    How is going to that going to affect Prime Minister May and the challenges she is facing right now?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Well, it puts her in a very awkward position.

    And it’s a comment from the president of the United States that she definitely won’t appreciate. It was a direct criticism of her policy, the policy of her government, and it comes at a very sensitive time.

    He didn’t stop there. He also said that the U.K. is a hot spot right now, that the country is in turmoil. Maybe, like President Tusk said, the leader of the European Union, about President Trump once, maybe she’s thinking that, with friends like this, who needs enemies?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you both for great reporting, Yamiche Alcindor in Brussels, Ryan Chilcote in London.

    In a postscript, late today, President Trump told the U.K.’s Sun tabloid newspaper that former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson would “make a great prime minister.”

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