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Trump throws NATO summit into crisis mode with demands, before switching and claiming victory

Eli Stokols, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

BRUSSELS -- President Donald Trump threw the annual NATO summit deeper into crisis Thursday -- forcing an emergency session and suggesting the United States could leave the nearly 70-year-old alliance -- before switching positions and claiming victory.

As the summit closed, the president held an unexpected news conference, taking credit for having secured firmer commitments from all 28 other member nations to increase their spending on defense.

It was unclear, however, if any of the NATO members had actually made any significantly new commitments to spending beyond what they'd agreed to in 2014, under President Barack Obama.

French President Emmanuel Macron said no new commitments had been made.

NATO allies, Trump said, have committed to meet the already agreed-to goal of allocating an amount equal to 2 percent of each nation's gross domestic product toward defense spending, and that he would like to see the benchmark raised to 4 percent eventually.

"Yesterday, I let them know I was extremely unhappy with what was happening. And now we're very happy. We have a very powerful, very strong NATO -- much stronger than it was two days ago," Trump said at the 35-minute news conference here.

"After 2 percent, we'll start talking about going higher," Trump said.

The comments marked a major rhetorical reversal from Trump, who on Wednesday dismissed NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg's attempts to hail the increased military budgets that members already have achieved in the last four years, calling the increases insignificant.

Trump, whose spending demands and antagonistic remarks about Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel at Wednesday's summit opening had already strained relationships with longtime allies, remarked on the "great collegial spirit" among allies as the summit concluded.

He also asserted that Russia, whose recent aggressions in Europe have given the defensive alliance renewed purpose, would be further constrained by more robust NATO spending.


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