Trump Takes ‘America First’ to Testy NATO Summit

World leaders meet in Brussels amid tensions sparked by U.S. demand that allies pay their fair share


President Donald Trump began the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Brussels Wednesday with harsh words for U.S. allies and promises to fight for “a level playing field for our farmers.”

“I am in Brussels, but always thinking about our farmers. Soy beans fell 50% from 2012 to my election. Farmers have done poorly for 15 years. Other countries’ trade barriers and tariffs have been destroying their businesses,” Trump tweeted Wednesday. “I will open … things up, better than ever before, but it can’t go too quickly. I am fighting for a level playing field for our farmers, and will win!”

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Trump took his “Make America Great Again” and “America First” messages to the NATO summit, thus spurring testy interactions with fellow world leaders. The president soon engaged in a charged exchange with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who claimed that “we are stronger together,” despite Trump’s calls for change and fairness.

Trump replied by knocking NATO allies for seeking “protection” from Russia, saying, “But how can you be together when you’re getting energy from the group you want protection from?”

“So we’re protecting Germany, we’re protecting France, we’re protecting all of these countries. And then numerous … countries go out and make a pipeline deal with Russia where they’re paying billions of dollars into the coffers of Russia,” Trump said. “And I think that’s very inappropriate.”

The president claimed that Germany, in particular, is “totally controlled” by Russia and remains “captive” to it because of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.

“It’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia where we’re supposed to be guarding against Russia, and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year from Russia,” Trump said. “We’re supposed to protect you against Russia, and yet you make this deal with Russia … Explain that. It can’t be explained.”

Trump’s rebuke spurred German Chancellor Angela Merkel to retort that she “witnessed this myself, that a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union. And I am very happy that we are today unified in freedom as the Federal Republic of Germany.”

“Germany is totally controlled by Russia,” Trump added. “Because they’re getting between 60 [and] 70 percent of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline.”

“I grew up in the part of Germany that was not free, the German Democratic Republic. For many years I dreamed of freedom, just as many others did — also of the freedom to travel to the United States,” Merkel added.

When Trump and Merkel sat down for a meeting later Wednesday, Trump offered more conciliatory remarks.

“We had a great meeting discussing military expenditure. We’re talking about trade,” Trump said. “We have a very, very good relationship with the chancellor. We have a tremendous relationship with Germany. You’ve had tremendous success, and I congratulate you.”

Merkel said, “Well, let me say that I’m very pleased indeed to have this opportunity here to exchange our views, and indeed we had an opportunity to have an exchange of our economic developments, on issues such as migration, and also the future of our trade relations.”

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“And let me say I am very much looking forward to further extending our relations in the future, and I think it is very important to have those exchanges together because, after all, we are partners. We are good partners, and we wish to cooperate in the future,” Merkel added.

Trump will continue to engage in meetings with fellow world leaders — many of whom have strained relationships with him — during the day as they talk trade, defense, and the need for other nations to contribute more money to NATO’s budget.

Trump on Monday tweeted about his deep concern over the United States’ long record of spending far more on NATO than any other country.

“This is not fair, nor is it acceptable. While these countries have been increasing their contributions since I took office, they must do much more,” he tweeted. “Germany is at 1%, the U.S. is at 4%, and NATO benefits … Europe far more than it does the U.S. By some accounts, the U.S. is paying for 90% of NATO, with many countries nowhere close to their 2% commitment. On top of this the European Union has a Trade Surplus of $151 Million with the U.S., with big Trade Barriers on U.S. goods. NO!”

Trump added Tuesday, “NATO countries must pay MORE, the United States must pay LESS. Very Unfair! … 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. Will they reimburse the U.S.?”

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