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Trump Reaffirms NATO Ties, and Dismisses Concerns About Russia

Trump Reaffirms NATO Ties, and Dismisses Concerns About Russia

BRUSSELS — After two days of haphazard deal making with European allies over military spending and throwing some of his closest diplomatic relationships into disarray, President Trump pledged on Thursday that the United States commitment to NATO “remains very strong” and that his allies had agreed to increase levels of military spending “like they never have before.”

Mr. Trump, speaking at an impromptu news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels after he ignited a crisis behind closed doors over burden-sharing within the alliance, dismissed any concern that his relationship with Russia was too cozy or that his approach to his allies was too harsh.

Hailing himself, again, as a “stable genius,” he took “total credit” for persuading his allies to increase military spending beyond established markers — a claim that was nearly immediately undercut by at least one European leader. Mr. Trump spoke for more than a half-hour while flanked by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and John R. Bolton, his national security advisor.

“I told people I’d be very unhappy if they didn’t up their commitments very substantially,” said Mr. Trump, who has not held a news conference in the United States in more than a year. NATO officials had no immediate comment.

Mr. Trump griped that the United States shouldered “probably 90 percent of the cost of NATO” — the number is actually closer to 67 percent of all NATO military spending, but that includes global spending, not just Europe.

The United States pays 22 percent of the NATO budget itself. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, of the $603 billion the United States spends on defense, only about $31 billion goes to Europe.

NATO members have pledged to aim to spend at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on military spending by 2024, but Mr. Trump, after berating alliance countries for failing to meet a target that they were not obligated to meet for six more years, then abruptly said last night the figure should be 4 percent of G.D.P. That, he said, was closer to the correct number.

Mr. Trump also answered several questions about his meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, scheduled for Monday in Helsinki, Finland.

The president said he would discuss violations to a treaty on nuclear weapons, as well as possibly stopping military exercises in the Baltics, but he evaded a question about whether he would recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Instead, he blamed his predecessor, Barack Obama, for the annexation, adding that he could not say what would happen. “Long before I got here,” Mr. Trump said, “President Obama allowed that to happen. That was on his watch, not on my watch.”

Mr. Trump said that, after a weekend in Scotland at Turnberry — a golf course and Trump business that he plugged in the news conference as “magical” — he would go “to a pretty hot spot” to meet with Mr. Putin.

Asked to characterize his relationship with the Russian president, Mr. Trump referred to Mr. Putin as a “competitor,” not an enemy, adversary or friend, and tried to wave off expectations that the “loose meeting” with the Russian president would result in a substantive policy outcome.

“It could lead to something very productive,” Mr. Trump said, “and maybe it’s not.”

When asked if Russia presented a security threat, Mr. Trump offered a grudging compliment: “Hey. I don’t want him to be. And I guess that’s why we have NATO.”

The unexpected news conference came after a relatively calm reception and dinner Wednesday evening and a hectic morning in which allies gave skeptical interviews to the news media about Mr. Trump’s intentions.

For his part, Mr. Trump showed up to the second day of the NATO summit meeting about 30 minutes behind schedule. But he found time to send two fiery tweets over what he regards as lackluster military by the United States’ closest allies, and what he perceived to be an uncomfortably close financial relationship between Russia and Germany.

In the news conference, Mr. Trump reiterated his frustration with Germany having agreed to a $10 billion pipeline that it approved to bring natural gas directly from Russia. In a pair of tweets sent before he arrived, he assailed the richest country in Europe.

“Not acceptable! All NATO Nations must meet their 2% commitment, and that must ultimately go to 4%!”

In front of reporters, Mr. Trump repeatedly cited the pipeline as a major point of contention with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and said that he was the “only one” to bring up the issue.

“We have to figure out what’s going on with the pipeline,” Mr. Trump said. “I brought it up, nobody brought it up but me.”

That is not true: Concerns with the pipeline date back to the Obama administration.

Follow Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Katie Rogers on Twitter: @juliehdavis and @katierogers.

Steven Erlanger contributed reporting.

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