Trump-Merkel Clash Over Russian Pipeline Dominates NATO Summit

BRUSSELS (Alliance News) - NATO leaders agreed on a series of measures that will strengthen the ...

Alliance News 11 July, 2018 | 5:58PM
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BRUSSELS (Alliance News) - NATO leaders agreed on a series of measures that will strengthen the alliance despite tensions among allies, including a tirade by US President Donald Trump against Germany, during a two-day summit that began Wednesday.

The summit was meant to showcase unity and resolve in the face of global threats, notably from Russia. But the talks have been overshadowed by Trump's argument that his country is paying disproportionately for Europe's defence.

NATO allies have committed to increase their defence spending to 2% of gross domestic product, a target that only eight of them are due to meet this year. The US leads the way, with spending of 3.5% expected this year, while Germany is only at 1.24%.

Behind closed doors, Trump was pushing allies to increase defence spending to 4% of GDP, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders confirmed.

Before the official session of NATO leaders, Trump started the day by launching a blistering attack against Germany, saying the country was "captive" to Russia due to a gas deal.

The US president argued that Germany was "totally controlled by Russia" as a result of the planned North Stream 2 pipeline, which will supply the country with Russian natural gas, at a pre-summit breakfast with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

"We're supposed to protect you against Russia, but they're paying billions of dollars to Russia, and I think that's very inappropriate," he said.

The planned pipeline would connect Russia to Germany across the Baltic Sea. Eastern European states and Ukraine fear the project by Russian gas giant Gazprom would cut them off from gas transit in the long run.

Merkel retorted to Trump, however, that Germany makes its own decisions - recalling a time when this was not the case.

"I experienced, in person, that part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union. I am very happy that today we are united in freedom ... and that we can therefore also say that we conduct independent policies and can take independent decisions," Merkel said.

The two tried to make amends at a bilateral meeting at the sidelines of the summit, after which Trump said that he has a "very, very good relationship" with Merkel.

"We're having a great meeting," Trump told reporters during the one-on-one meeting, noting that they were discussing military spending and trade issues. The US has a "tremendous" relationship with Germany, he added.

Merkel said they were additionally discussing migration issues, adding that Germany and the US were "good partners."

The barbs come ahead of a highly anticipated meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday.

In the US, leaders of the opposition Democratic Party slammed Trump's verbal assaults.

"President Trump's brazen insults and denigration of one of America's most steadfast allies, Germany, is an embarrassment," according to a joint statement from Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.

Paul Ryan, the Republican lawmaker who leads the House of Representatives, called NATO "indispensable."

Merkel also pushed back at Trump's argument that Germany is not meeting its NATO defence expenditure pledges, noting that, by 2024, Berlin would be spending 80% more on defence than in 2014.

"We therefore consider that we are committed to the conclusions of [the NATO summit in] Wales to move towards 2% on defence expenditure," Merkel added.

Despite the spat, Stoltenberg said the allies showed a united front during the first session of the summit, where they adopted several measures to strengthen NATO.

"We have had discussions, we do have disagreements, but most importantly, we have decisions that are pushing this alliance forward and making us stronger," Stoltenberg said.

The NATO leaders signed off on several measures, including a high-readiness initiative enabling the alliance to mobilize 30 land battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 combat vessels within 30 days.

NATO has been ramping up its defence capabilities in recent years in response to perceived aggression from Russia, following the country's invasion of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014, and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The alliance was also launching a training mission in Iraq and extending its funding for Afghan security forces until 2024, as part of its efforts to fight terrorism.

Also during the summit, Macedonia received an invitation to join NATO, after resolving a long-running dispute with neighbouring Greece over the country's name.

Trump's visit to Europe, which will also include a trip to Britain ahead of his meeting with Putin, in Helsinki, comes on the heels of growing tensions between Washington and the continent about trade issues, as well as Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

By Helen Maguire and Emoke Bebiak, dpa

Copyright dpa

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