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Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron
President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron shake hands during their bilateral meeting, Wednesday, July 11, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Trump suggests NATO allies should spend more on defense

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Updated July 11, 2018 12:23 PM EDT

BRUSSELS (AP) — President Donald Trump has suggested that NATO allies commit to spending 4 percent of their GDP on defense, up from the current goal of 2 percent by 2024.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirms Trump raised the idea at a closed-door meeting with fellow NATO leaders Wednesday in Brussels.

It's unclear by what date he'd like to see the increase.

Trump has been pressing member countries to spend more on defense, accusing them of freeloading off the U.S.

NATO estimates that 15 members, or just over half, will meet the benchmark by 2024 based on current trends.

Updated July 11, 2018 08:27 AM EDT

President Donald Trump is participating in a welcome ceremony with fellow NATO leaders at what's expected to be a fraught meeting of the military alliance.

Trump was spotted chatting with British Prime Minister Theresa May and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during public portions of the opening.

But he appeared to steer clear of German Chancellor Angela Merkel hours after claiming her country was controlled by Russia. He also walked far behind the leaders of the U.K. and Canada during a walking tour of NATO headquarters.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is stressing the need for the allies to stick together, saying, "We owe our success to our unity."

Updated July 11, 2018 06:58 AM EDT

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.

Updated July 11, 2018 06:58 AM EDT

German Chancellor Angela 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."

By: JONATHAN LEMIRE and JILL COLVIN, Associated Press

BRUSSELS (AP) — In a combative start to his NATO visit, President Donald Trump asserted Wednesday that a pipeline project has made Germany "totally controlled" by and "captive to Russia" and blasted NATO allies' defense spending, opening what was expected to be a fraught summit with a list of grievances involving American allies.

Trump, in a testy exchange with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, took issue with the U.S. protecting Germany when the European nation is making deals with Russia.

"I have to say, I think it's very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia where we're supposed to be guarding against Russia," Trump said during a breakfast with Stoltenberg, his first event since arriving in Brussels. "We're supposed to protect you against Russia but they're paying billions of dollars to Russia and I think that's very inappropriate."

The president appeared to be referring to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would bring gas from Russia to Germany's northeastern Baltic coast, bypassing Eastern European nations like Poland and Ukraine and doubling the amount of gas Russia can send directly to Germany. The vast undersea pipeline is opposed by the U.S. and some other EU members, who warn it could give Moscow greater leverage over Western Europe.

Trump said that, "Germany, as far as I'm concerned, is captive to Russia" and urged NATO to look into the issue. Trump, who has been accused of being too cozy with Putin — a man accused of U.S. election meddling — was expected to see German Chancellor Angela Merkel later in the day.

Stoltenberg pushed back, stressing that NATO members have been able to work together despite their differences.

The dramatic exchange set the tone for what was already expected to be a tense day of meetings with leaders of the military alliance. Trump is expected to continue hammering jittery NATO allies about their military spending during the summit meeting, which comes amid increasingly frayed relations between the "America first" president and the United States' closest traditional allies.

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"The United States is paying far too much and other countries are not paying enough, especially some. So we're going to have a meeting on that," Trump said as he arrived at the breakfast, describing the situation as "disproportionate and not fair to the taxpayers of the United States and we're going to make it fair."

"They will spend more," he later predicted. "I have great confidence they'll be spending more."

Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump gestures while speaking to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during their bilateral breakfast, Wednesday, July 11, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced hours after the exchange over Germany that Trump would meet later Wednesday with Merkel, as well as with French President Emmanuel Macron. Journalists will not be allowed to cover either meeting, she said.

Trump has been pushing NATO members to reach their agreed-to target of spending 2 percent of their gross domestic products on national defense by 2024 and has accused those who don't of freeloading off the U.S.

"Many countries in NATO, which we are expected to defend, are not only short of their current commitment of 2% (which is low), but are also delinquent for many years in payments that have not been made," he tweeted Tuesday while en route to Europe, asking: "Will they reimburse the U.S.?"

That's not how the spending words. The 2 percent represents the amount each country aims to spend on its own defense, not some kind of direct payment to NATO or the U.S.

NATO estimates that 15 members, or just over half, will meet the benchmark by 2024 based on current trends.

During his campaign, Trump called NATO "obsolete" and suggested the U.S. might not come to the defense of members if they found themselves under attack — a shift that would represent a fundamental realignment of the modern world order. He also called Brussels a "hell hole" and "a mess." Trump has moderated his language somewhat since taking office, but has continued to dwell on the issue, even as many NATO members have agreed to up their spending.

Donald Trump, Jens Stoltenberg
U.S. President Donald Trump, right, talks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, prior to their bilateral breakfast, Wednesday, July 11, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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Stoltenberg, for his part, credited Trump for spurring NATO nations to spend more on defense, noting that the Europeans and Canada are projected to spend around $266 billion more by 2024.

"We all agree that we have to do more," he said, describing last year as marking the biggest increase in defense spending across Europe and Canada in a generation.

Trump interjected, asking Stoltenberg why he thought that had happened.

Jens Stoltenberg
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, gestures while speaking to U.S. President Donald Trump during their bilateral breakfast, Wednesday, July 11, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

"It's also because of your leadership, because your clear message," Stoltenberg responded.

Trump took credit for the spending, telling the NATO chief that "because of me they've 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."

Trump was also participating in a welcome ceremony, a meeting of the North Atlantic Council and a working dinner with some of the same leaders he berated over trade during his last world leaders summit in Canada last month.

Brussels is the first stop of a weeklong European tour that will include stops in London and Scotland, as well as a highly anticipated meeting next week with Russia's Vladimir Putin.

Trump predicted as he departed Washington that the "easiest" leg of his journey would be his scheduled sit-down Putin — a comment that did little to reassure allies fretting over his potential embrace of a Russian leader U.S. intelligence officials accuse of meddling in the 2016 elections to help Trump win.

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On the eve of the NATO summit, European Council President Donald Tusk pushed back against Trump's constant criticism of European allies and urged him to remember who his friends are when he meets with Putin in Helsinki.

"Dear America, appreciate your allies, after all you don't have all that many," he said.

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Associated Press writers Ken Thomas in Washington and Maria Danilova in Moscow contributed.

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