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Trump sets combative tone at NATO with attacks on allies

It's supposed to be a gathering of friends, but at certain moments, today's NATO summit sounded anything but friendly. President Trump's rhetoric on German energy sources and allied military spending set a combative tone. Still, NATO officials insist Trump's criticisms won't impact NATO's day-to-day operations. Judy Woodruff talks with Yamiche Alcindor and special correspondent Ryan Chilcote.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's supposed to be a gathering of friends, but at times, today's NATO summit sounded anything but friendly. Right from the start, President Trump served notice that he wasn't there to play nice.

    White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage, from Brussels.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Germany is totally controlled by Russia.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    President Trump blasted his way into the Brussels summit with an attack on NATO ally Germany.

  • President Donald Trump:

    They will be getting from 60 to 70 percent of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline. And you tell me if that's appropriate, because I think it's not.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Mr. Trump spoke at a breakfast with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. It was supposed to be a light meet-and-greet. Instead, the president criticized a pipeline project called Nord Stream II that would bring Russian natural gas across the Baltic Sea to Germany.

  • President Donald Trump:

    So we're supposed to protect Germany, but they're getting their energy from Russia. Explain that.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Stoltenberg, who is a Norwegian prime minister, pushed back, but was careful to moderate his tone.

  • Jens Stoltenberg:

    I think that, even during the Cold War, NATO allies were trading with Russia.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in what was then communist East Germany, quickly issued her own response.

    Angela Merkel (through translator): I have experienced myself how a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union. I am very happy that today we are united in freedom, the Federal Republic of Germany. Because of that, we can say that we can make our independent policies and make independent decisions.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    She also noted Germany is the second largest provider of troops to NATO operations. But President Trump insisted Germany and other NATO member countries could immediately increase their military spending. In 2014, they agreed to reach a threshold of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2024.

    So far, five countries have met that goal. Three more are expected to do so by the end of the year. Mr. Trump said that's not good enough.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I think it's very unfair to our country. It's very unfair to our taxpayer. And I think that these countries have to step it up not over a 10-year period. They have to step it up immediately.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    That prompted this exchange, as Secretary-General Stoltenberg tried to appease the president.

  • Jens Stoltenberg:

    The good news is that allies have started to invest more in defense. After years of cutting defense budgets, they have started to add billions to their defense budgets. And last year was the biggest increase in defense spending across Europe and Canada in that generation.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Why was that last year?

  • Jens Stoltenberg:

    It's also because of your leadership, because of a clear message.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Later, on the sidelines of the summit, Stoltenberg had a tenser exchange with moderator Barbara Starr of CNN on how Mr. Trump's comments impact NATO cohesion.

  • Jens Stoltenberg:

    You know, I'm not a professor. I'm not a pundit. I'm not sitting here…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Barbara Starr:

    But you're the secretary-general, sir.

  • Jens Stoltenberg:

    Yes, meaning that my task is to make sure that we stay together. So if I started to freely reflect on all the possibilities, then I would undermine the unity of this alliance.

    So I have one responsibility, and that is to make sure, despite the obvious differences, which you can read about in newspapers every day, we have to keep this family together.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    For his part, President Trump freely acknowledged his rhetoric on defense spending might not endear him to other NATO allies.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Because of me, they have raised about $40 billion over the last year. So I think the secretary-general likes Trump. He may be the only one, but that's OK with me.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Back in Washington, U.S. lawmakers sounded off about the presidential visit to NATO. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said he too has concerns about the Russian energy pipeline and Germany's defense spending.

  • Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.:

    I have raised those same concerns about Nord Stream II. And the president is right to point out that our NATO allies need to adhere to their commitments, which is 2 percent of GDP for defense.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah had a different take.

  • Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah:

    I don't agree with that. And the Germans wouldn't agree with that.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    On the Democratic side, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi issued a joint statement saying, President Trump's criticism of Germany was, "an embarrassment. They also said, "His behavior this morning is another profoundly disturbing signal that the president is more loyal to President Putin than to our NATO allies."

    Later on, though, Mr. Trump and Merkel struck a friendly tone.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We have a very, very good relationship with the chancellor. We have a tremendous relationship with Germany.

    Angela Merkel (through translator): I am pleased to have this opportunity to be here for this exchange of views. We are partners. We are good partners and wish to continue to cooperate in the future.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Mr. Trump also met one on one with French President Emmanuel Macron after saying France should also spend more on defense.

  • Emmanuel Macron:

    We have worked together for 12 months now and made some great decisions.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We have made some good decisions.

  • Emmanuel Macron:

    And we will continue to work together.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    This afternoon, the NATO allies released a declaration on transatlantic security and solidarity. It said members would agree to share fairly the responsibilities of defending each other.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Joining me now with more of their reporting from Brussels is our Yamiche Alcindor and "NewsHour" special correspondent Ryan Chilcote.

    Ryan, Yamiche, thank you both.

    Yamiche, I'm going to start with you.

    The president threw some verbal grenades today, first at the entire NATO alliance. Then he singled out Germany. Then he seemed to cool down. What are we witnessing?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    President Trump's rhetoric really set the tone here at NATO. It made member countries really, really nervous about the president's commitment to NATO and, really, the U.S.' commitment to NATO.

    Lieutenant Ben Hodges, who used to be the commanding general of the U.S. Army in Europe, said that President Trump's words were like a wrecking ball to NATO. He said, that, really, the people here were worried and concerned about his comments. He was at a gathering called NATO Engages, which is separate but related to NATO.

    He said that officials there who are kind of retired think tank executives and other people who used to serve in the government, that they were talking about the fact that President Trump really set the mood here and really worried people.

    A State Department official told me, though, that President Trump's rhetoric is not having an impact on the day-to-day operations of NATO. He said those continue to go as normal.

    The other thing that's really important is that President Trump, he agreed to a joint statement that NATO passed today. He didn't change any U.S. commitments to NATO. So even though there are a lot of words, there hasn't been actions to really walk the U.S. back from our commitments here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Ryan, what about, though, his specific comments of Germany, going after Germany for relying, he said, too much on Russia for national gas, depending, I think he said 60, 70 percent? What are the facts of that?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Well, President Trump asserted that Germany is going to getting 60 to 70 percent — or will be getting 60 to 70 percent of its energy from Russia when this new pipeline that the Russians are building to Germany under the Baltic Sea goes online.

    That's actually not accurate. Right now, the Germans are getting something like 10 percent of their power from Russia, and it probably won't be too much bigger.

    What President Trump really didn't say and what he was implying is that the Germans should buy, instead of Russian gas, American natural gas. This has been a big trend for President Trump. He's really become the sort of salesman in chief, if you will, for American natural gas companies.

    The problem with that is, in Europe, they know, and in Germany, that right now American natural gas is more expensive after it's sent over the Atlantic in Germany than Russian gas, and there is just not nearly enough of it.

    So the German chancellor doesn't want to be overly dependent on Russian gas, she doesn't want to be overly dependent on Russia at all. She's in fact championed all of the sanctions against Russia. But she's pragmatic and she feels, from a business perspective, it's important to ensure the supply of energy that Germany gets from Russia with this new pipeline — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Meanwhile, Yamiche, the president surprised everybody on another point, and that is after saying that the allies need to step up their defense spending to 2 percent of their gross national product, he's now saying it should be 4 percent.

    Where did that come from?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, President Trump is playing to a domestic audience as much as he's playing to an international one.

    He's talking about increasing defense spending because he sees that is something that really plays to the idea that he's keeping a campaign promise. When he was candidate Trump, he was talking to large crowds, saying that Europe was taking advantage of us.

    And now he's kind of sticking it to Europe. And the thing that is really important is that President Trump was almost projecting what people say about him onto Germany today. People say that President Trump is influenced by Russia. Of course, there's the Mueller investigation looking into whether or not Russia colluded with his campaign.

    And now he is saying Germany is actually controlled by Russia. The other thing that is important is that, unlike the G7, which is really an economic club, and the gathering, an informal gathering of countries, NATO, it's an organization that has a treaty dating back to 1949.

    That means that if Trump really wants to pull out of U.S. commitments here, he's going to have to take several steps. He hasn't done any of that right now. There, of course, are worries about that. But the idea is that President Trump is talking a lot, but not really doing a lot.

    And it's important because the U.S. Senate and House, they both passed nonbinding resolutions, a statement saying that they support U.S. engagement in NATO. Of course, the U.S. Senate and House are both controlled by Republicans. While Republicans have not been pushing back on the president, back home, they are pushing back on his rhetoric when it comes to NATO.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that was noted here in Washington and around the country.

    And just quickly, Ryan, you alluded to this a moment ago. For all the dust that President Trump has kicked up, in fact, the allies did come together, including President Trump. They agreed on a communique, a joint statement.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    That's right.

    And I think that the United States allies here in NATO have gotten used to the unpredictability perhaps of President Trump's rhetoric and they are very happy that the communique was signed and agreed upon, particularly after what happened at the G7, where President Trump reneged on the U.S.' agreement with the communique.

    So the most important part for all of the European allies in that communique is that the NATO allies say they will not recognize what they call the annexation of Crimea by Russia.

    Now, in just a few days' time, President Trump is going to meet President Putin. What they will be really concerned about and really hoping is that President Trump doesn't change his tune between now and then and when he meets President Putin doesn't all of a sudden say, as he suggested he possibly could just a couple of weeks ago, he doesn't say, actually, we will recognize Russia's annexation of Crimea.

    That would change everything here, the sanctions against Russia, the whole security posture. It would be an explosive comment or decision that would undermine the real nature of the alliance between the United States and its European allies — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ryan Chilcote, Yamiche Alcindor, not a sleepy day at this NATO gathering. Thank you both.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we will take a closer look at the president's criticisms of NATO after the news summary.

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