In a departure from the diplomatic tone that has generally marked the beginning of previous NATO summits, U.S. President Donald Trump kicked off this week’s meeting in Brussels, Belgium, with an airing of grievances in front of journalists’ cameras.
Trump expressed particular criticism of the Germany and its leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel, at the beginning of the two-day summit on Wednesday.
He spoke to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a preliminary group meeting, blasting Germany’s plan to increase the amount of gas it receives from Russia, as reported by Fox News.
Describing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as a “very sad” development, Trump said the project exemplifies his complaint that the U.S. bears an undue burden in supporting NATO missions.
“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 to Russia,” the president said.
In more general remarks to NATO allies, Trump said that many countries “owe” the United States for “paying far too much” while “other countries are not paying enough.”
He called the current NATO arrangement “disproportionate and not fair to the taxpayers of the United States.”
Trump went on to call Germany “a captive to Russia,” suggesting the issue is “something NATO has to look at.”
Those remarks came just hours before Trump and Merkel met for a one-on-one discussion, which White House press secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed would likely focus on the same concerns.
According to Bloomberg Quint, Sanders said she believed Trump would bring up his belief that Germany is “beholden to Russia because of its dependence on Russia for natural gas.”
Before that meeting, Merkel did not directly address Trump’s complaint but emphasized that Germany should be able to decide for itself which international relationships are best for its people. In making her point, she contrasted that freedom to the communism under which she was raised.
“I would like to add on this particular occasion that I myself have experienced Soviet control over part of Germany,” she said. “I’m very happy that we in the Federal Republic of Germany live united in freedom, and for that reason we can make sovereign decisions.”
Merkel described that sovereignty as “a very good thing, especially for people in the former east.”
Despite the rocky beginning, comments by both world leaders following their meeting Wednesday afternoon focused on more positive themes.
According to U.S. News & World Report, Trump described their talk as “a great meeting” in which he and Merkel had been “discussing military expenditure” and “talking about trade.”
He also reiterated that he believes the U.S. has a “very, very good relationship with the chancellor” and “a tremendous relationship with Germany.”
Trump did confirm that the two discussed the controversial gas pipeline but said their meeting was aimed at addressing that and other disagreements in an effort to benefit both nations.
“I believe that our trade will increase and lots of other things will increase,” he said. “But we’ll see what happens.”
Merkel also reacted to the meeting, telling reporters that it was an “opportunity to have an exchange about economic developments … and also the future of our trade relations.”
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