BRUSSELS – President Donald Trump affirmed his support for NATO Thursday, abruptly shifting his tone as the meeting of European allies threatened to
after a tense start to the summit of North Atlantic allies in which he lashed out at member countries and accused them of not paying enough for their defense.
Trump asserted he has the authority to pull out of the treaty unilaterally, but that the additional commitments he’s received at the two-day summit made that unnecessary.
“So now we’re very happy and have a very powerful, very, very strong NATO. More powerful than it was two days ago,” he said in a press conference in Brussels, called with nine minutes notice.
The statement appeared designed to head off growing panic among the 28 other allies over Trump’s ever-more-insistent demands that they spend more on defense. Several European news outlets, citing European diplomatic sources, reported Thursday that allies had called an emergency meeting after Trump had threatened to pull out of the 69-year-old alliance.
Asked if he had made such a threat, Trump responded by saying “that’s unnecessary.”
Trump’s insistence that he is still committed to NATO follows what he described as pledges by allies to increase their defense spending. But he declined to offer specifics.
NATO allies have been unsettled by Trump’s overtures to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump, who is scheduled to have a one-on-one meeting with Putin on Monday in Helsinki, again had warm words for the Russian leader on Thursday.
Earlier Thursday, he repeated his complaint that the U.S. carries a trade deficit with the European Union even as those countries rely on the United States to pay for their defense.
“Presidents have been trying unsuccessfully for years to get Germany and other rich NATO Nations to pay more toward their protection from Russia,” he tweeted. “They pay only a fraction of their cost. The U.S. pays tens of Billions of Dollars too much to subsidize Europe, and loses Big on Trade!.”
John Fritze reported from Washington.