BRUSSELS (AP) — President Donald Trump has arrived at NATO headquarters in Brussels for the first of two days of summit talks with allies.
Trump is planning to press his counterparts to increase their spending on defense, having publicly criticized many European nations for failing to meet their commitments to the mutual defense pact.
Leaders of the alliance are set to discuss their collective readiness, as well as the future of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan and combating terrorism.
Trump is also set to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of the meeting.
Merkel is defending her country’s independence following comments from President Donald Trump suggesting that Berlin was operating under Russian influence.
Heading into a NATO meeting in Brussels, Merkel noted that she had grown up in communist East Germany.
Without mentioning Trump’s comments specifically, she told reporters Wednesday: “I’ve experienced myself a part of Germany controlled by the Soviet Union and I’m very happy today that we are united in freedom as the Federal Republic of Germany and can thus say that we can determine our own policies and make our own decisions and that’s very good.”
Earlier, Trump had suggested that because of a new pipeline deal to bring more Russian gas to Germany, “Germany as far as I’m concerned is captive to Russia.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders says Trump will reiterate his public criticism of Merkel during their pull-aside on the margins of the NATO summit in Brussels.
Trump fumed during a Wednesday meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that a Russian natural gas pipeline project in Germany is “very inappropriate” as he criticized European countries’ contributions to the mutual-defense alliance.
Sanders says Trump will also meet Wednesday with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Trump is taking issue with the U.S. protecting Germany when the European nation is making energy deals with Russia.
The president appeared to be referring to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would double the amount of gas Russia can send directly to Germany, skirting transit countries such as Ukraine. The project is opposed by the U.S. and some other EU members.
Trump says of Germany: “We’re supposed to protect you against Russia” and yet you make this deal with Russia.
Stoltenberg pushed back, stressing that NATO members have been able to work together despite their differences.
President Trump also pressing NATO allies to bolster their defense spending as he opens talks with leaders of the military alliance. Trump says the disproportionate defense spending an “unfair burden on the United States.”
Trump says at the start of his meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that “because of me” NATO has raised more than $40 billion in defense spending.
Trump says, “So I think the secretary general likes Trump. He may be the only one but that’s OK with me.”
The U.S. president has called upon NATO allies to meet commitments to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense.
Stoltenberg says “a strong NATO is good for Europe.”