President Donald Trump said Tuesday that NATO allies have made progress toward meeting his demands to increase their defense spending, in a meeting with the alliance’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Trump has repeatedly questioned the value of NATO — celebrating its 70th anniversary — to his “American First” foreign policy. He regularly complains the U.S. is being shortchanged because few other members meet an alliance goal of spending at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense.
On Tuesday he said the U.S. and its NATO allies had made “great strides in Afghanistan” but that the war there was also “unfortunate” and “ridiculous.” His administration is seeking a peace deal with the Taliban, who were forced from power in 2001 after a U.S.-led invasion but have fought an insurgency ever since.
Stoltenberg, a former prime minister of Norway, has sought to finesse Trump’s criticism of the alliance by repeatedly praising the president. He applauded Trump’s “strong leadership” on what the two men described as the issue of “burden-sharing” in the alliance.
At a NATO summit in Brussels in July, Trump insulted members and made false claims that he had extracted promises of new defense spending. Rather than taking umbrage, Stoltenberg said Trump has created a “new sense of urgency” in the debate over NATO members’ military budgets.
Stoltenberg may be more tempted to allude to differences over Trump’s policies when he speaks to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. On Monday, Stoltenberg said members of the 29-nation NATO “disagree on many issues” but such differences are neither new nor unusual for an alliance made up of democracies.
Exacerbating the differences over defense spending is a push by the Trump administration for allies that host U.S. troops to pay far more for their presence, even floating an idea known as “Cost Plus 50” — for governments to pay the full cost of American bases, plus a 50 percent premium.
NATO is also under unprecedented strain given divisions over how best to confront Russia. The alliance so far has been able to maintain unity in putting the blame squarely on Russia for violations of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which the U.S. pledged to withdraw from in February.
“I think we’ll get along with Russia,” Trump said on Tuesday.
(With assistance from Jonathan Stearns.)
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