Trump's claim that NATO will boost defence spending disputed

NATO allies meeting in Brussels made a "tremendous amount of progress" as they agreed to boost defence spending, U.S. President Donald Trump said at the end of their two-day summit in Brussels.

French president says allies confirmed intention to meet 2% goal by 2024 and no more

'I believe in NATO,' U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters as two days of talks with leaders of the military alliance ended in Brussels. (Reinhard Krause/Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump closed out his chaotic two-day visit to NATO Thursday by declaring victory, claiming that member nations caved to his demands to significantly increase defence spending and reaffirming his commitment to the alliance.

But there were no immediate specifics on what Trump said he had achieved, and French President Emmanuel Macron quickly disputed Trump's claim that NATO allies have agreed to boost defence spending beyond two per cent of gross domestic product.

"The United States' commitment to NATO remains very strong," Trump told reporters at a surprise news conference following an emergency session of NATO members held to address his reported threats to withdraw from the alliance.

Trump had spent his time in Brussels berating members of the military alliance for failing to spend enough of their money on defence, accusing Europe of freeloading off the U.S. and raising doubts about whether he would come to members' defence if they were attacked.

Trump said he made his anger clear to allies on Wednesday.

Leaders from NATO member and partner states met for a two-day summit, overshadowed by strong demands by Trump for most NATO member countries to spend more on defence. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

"Yesterday I let them know that I was extremely unhappy with what was happening," Trump said, adding that, in response, European countries agreed to up their spending.

"They have substantially upped their commitment and now we're very happy and have a very, very powerful, very, very strong NATO," he said.

Trump did not specify which countries had committed to what, and it remained unclear whether any had changed their plans. He seemed to suggest a speeded-up timeline, saying nations would be "spending at a much faster clip," which if it panned out would mark a significant milestone for the alliance.

Takes credit for membership agreeing to increase defence spending by 2% of GDP 1:50

"Some are at two per cent, others have agreed definitely to go to two per cent, and some are going back to get the approval, and which they will get to go to two per cent," he said.

U.S. leaders for decades have pushed NATO allies to spend more on defence in an effort to more equitably share the burden in the mutual-defence organization.

NATO countries in 2014 committed to move toward spending two per cent of their gross domestic products on defence within 10 years. NATO has estimated that only 15 members, or just over half, will meet the benchmark by 2024 based on current trends.

"We committed in the declaration yesterday to the [2014] Wales agreement — and you can triple-check the wording in that — which moves us toward two per cent and mostly importantly reverses the decline in military spending that happened across NATO allies, including in Canada under the previous government," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a closing news conference.

Macron, in his own news conference, seemed to reject Trump's claim that NATO powers had agreed to increases beyond previous targets. He said the allies had confirmed their intention to meet the goal of two per cent by 2024 and no more.

The emergency session came amid reports that Trump had threatened to leave the pact if allies didn't immediately up their spending, but officials said no explicit threat was made.

"President Trump never at any moment, either in public or in private, threatened to withdraw from NATO," Macron said.

Trump had taken an aggressive tone during the NATO summit, questioning the value of an alliance that has defined decades of American foreign policy, torching an ally and proposing a massive increase in European defence spending.

Trump keeps up pressure

Earlier Thursday, Trump called out U.S. allies on Twitter, saying, "Presidents have been trying unsuccessfully for years to get Germany and other rich NATO Nations to pay more toward their protection from Russia."

He complained the United States "pays tens of Billions of Dollars too much to subsidize Europe" and demanded that member nations meet their pledge to spend 2 percent of GDP on defence, which "must ultimately go to 4%!"

Under fire for his warm embrace of Russia's Vladimir Putin, Trump on Wednesday also turned a harsh spotlight on Germany's own ties to Russia, alleging that a natural gas pipeline venture with Moscow has left Angela Merkel's government "totally controlled" and "captive" to Russia.

He continued the attack Thursday, complaining that "Germany just started paying Russia, the country they want protection from, Billions of Dollars for their Energy needs coming out of a new pipeline from Russia."

"Not acceptable!" he railed before arriving late at NATO headquarters for morning meetings with the leaders of Azerbaijan, Romania, Ukraine and Georgia.

'Germany is a captive of Russia,' says U.S. president at start of NATO meetings 3:21

During the trip, Trump questioned the necessity of the alliance that formed a bulwark against Soviet aggression, tweeting after a day of contentious meetings: "What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy?"

Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, shot back that she had "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."

Trump tweeted that NATO countries "Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025" and then rattled them further by privately suggesting member nations should spend 4 percent of their gross domestic product on defence — a bigger share than even the United States currently pays, according to NATO statistics.

Still, Trump has been more conciliatory behind the scenes, including at a leaders' dinner Wednesday.

"I have to tell you that the atmosphere last night at dinner was very open, was very constructive and it was very positive," Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, the president of Croatia, told reporters.

U.K. urges unity to engage Russia

Amid the tumult, British Prime Minister Theresa May, whose government is in turmoil over her plans for exiting the European Union, sounded a call for solidarity among allies.

A series of steel fences surround the U.S. ambassador's residence in London, where Donald Trump will spend the night Thursday. On Friday, the U.S. president will have lunch with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, then tea with the Queen at Windsor Castle before flying off to one of his golf clubs in Scotland. (Luca Bruno/Associated Press)

"As we engage Russia we must do so from a position of unity and strength — holding out hope for a better future, but also clear and unwavering on where Russia needs to change its behaviour for this to become a reality," she said.

On Wednesday, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said there are significant Western sanctions against Russia for a reason.

'They agree with me on immigration and I think that's why you have Brexit in the first place,' says U.S. president 0:45

"Canada believes in those sanctions. Those sanctions will and need to stay in place as long as Russia's illegal actions remain in force. When it comes to Nord Stream, Canada has significant concerns about that project."

Trump to meet with Queen

Trump next headed to the United Kingdom on Thursday. Although Trump administration officials point to the longstanding alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom, Trump's itinerary in England will largely keep him out of central London, where significant protests are expected.

The National takes a look at how U.S. relations with the U.K. have gotten frosty since Trump took office. 3:25

Instead, a series of events — a black-tie dinner with business leaders, a meeting with May and an audience with the Queen — will happen outside the bustling city, where Mayor Sadiq Khan has been in a verbal battle with Trump.

Woody Johnson, the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, dismissed the significance of the protests, telling Fox News that one of the reasons the two countries are so close "is because we have the freedoms that we've all fought for. And one of the freedoms we have is freedom of speech and the freedom to express your views. And I know that's valued very highly over here and people can disagree strongly and still go out to dinner."

He also said meeting the Queen would be an experience Trump "will really cherish."

With files from CBC's Murray Brewster


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