(11 Jul 2018) 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.
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.
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 interjecting, asking Stoltenberg why he thought that had happened.
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