President Trump kicked off the NATO summit in London with a bang Tuesday, scolding the French president for “insulting” the alliance and calling out Germany and other countries as delinquents who must step up their defense spending or be “dealt with.”
Mr. Trump held a frosty sit-down with French President Emmanuel Macron and said it’s simply unfair that some nations pay just 1% of their gross domestic product on defense while the U.S. pays more than 4%.
“There are some countries that aren’t fulfilling their commitments. And those countries, they’re going to be dealt with. Maybe I’ll deal with them from a trade standpoint,” he said. “Maybe I’ll deal with them in a different way. I’ll work something out where they’ll have to pay. But, you know, we don’t want to have people delinquent.”
Mr. Trump weighed in during a Macron meeting that was friendly on the surface but was marked by a tense debate over their visions for NATO, a “digital tax” dispute and what to do about a Turkish ally who appears to have gone rogue.
The U.S. president scolded Mr. Macron for recently bemoaning the “brain death” of NATO and suggesting that Europe could no longer rely on the Americans.
“I think nobody needs [the alliance] more than France. And that’s why I think that when France makes a statement like they made about NATO, that’s a very dangerous statement for them to make,” Mr. Trump said in a meeting with NATO General-Secretary Jens Stoltenberg.
The comments put Mr. Trump in the unusual position of defending a NATO partnership he has often criticized as stacked against the financial interests of the U.S., since many countries fall short of committing the target 2% of their GDP toward defense.
“Some are way below 1% and that’s unacceptable, and then if something happens we’re supposed to protect them and it’s not really fair and it never has been fair,” Mr. Trump said during a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “[Canada is] paying up. We are talking to Germany tomorrow and they’re starting to come along. They have to.”
Mr. Macron said he supports strong investment in NATO.
“But when we speak about NATO it’s not just about money,” he told reporters and Mr. Trump.
He said he stands by his brain-death comment and wants the alliance to focus on its adversaries.
“Who is the enemy today?” Mr. Macron asked. “And let’s be clear and work together on that.”
He complained about Turkey, in particular, saying the country is fighting against Kurdish factions who partnered with NATO to rout the Islamic State.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also upset partners by purchasing a Russian S-400 missile defense system and calling on NATO to declare certain Kurdish groups as terrorists before he backs an updated defense plan for Poland and Baltic countries.
Mr. Trump, who was criticized for withdrawing American troops and abandoning U.S.-allied Kurds in northern Syria, said he has a “very good relationship” with Turkey and is reviewing its purchase of the Russian system.
The president also complained about European countries that have refused to take back people who left their countries to join the Islamic State in Syria.
“Would you like some nice ISIS fighters? I can give them to you,” Mr. Trump said to Mr. Macron.
“Let’s be serious,” Mr. Macron said.
Mr. Macron said the global community shouldn’t take its eye off the ongoing fight in the Middle East.
“We will have a case-by-case approach [with prisoners]. But for me, the very first objective in the region is to finish work against ISIS,” Mr. Macron said. “And don’t make any mistake. Your number one problem [is] not the foreign fighters. This is the ISIS fighters in the region and you have more and more of these fighters due to the situation today.”
The leaders’ tense conversation was underscored by a trade spat between their nations.
Mr. Trump says he’s ready to impose tariffs on French products over a new digital tax that hurts American tech companies such as Google.
“We want to tax them. Not somebody else to tax them,” Mr. Trump said. “And as the president knows we taxed wine and have other taxes scheduled.”
The U.S. leader said the standoff is a “minor dispute” that can be resolved, however. Indeed, Mr. Trump later gave Mr. Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte a ride to 10 Downing Street for an evening reception hosted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The president also weighed in on issues beyond NATO’s sphere. He said he has no strict deadline in reaching a trade deal with China, and “in some ways I like the idea of waiting until after the election for the China deal.”
He seemed to suggest the U.S. does not support protesters in Iran, only to clarify his administration does support them but is not going to aid them financially.
Mr. Trump also said he maintains confidence in North Korean leader Kim Jong Un despite his repeated missile tests, arguing he’s been able to prevent a war.
“I like him, he likes me, we have a good relationship. We’ll see what happens,” Mr. Trump said. “He definitely likes sending rockets up, doesn’t he? That’s why I call him Rocket Man. But we have a very good relationship and we’ll see what happens.”
Mr. Trump also said he will try to stay mum about the U.K.’s political campaign as he meets with Mr. Johnson during his London stay.
“I’ll stay out of the election,” he added. “You know that I was a fan of Brexit. I called it the day before.”
Mr. Trump is visiting London while Congress at home considers the next phase of impeachment proceedings against him.
Mr. Trump said the process is a “bad thing for our country” and he did nothing wrong in dealing with Ukraine. House Democrats say there is ample evidence that he withheld a White House visit and military aid in pursuit of political favors from Kyiv.
Mr. Trump said a lesser punishment of censure is out of the question.
“I did nothing wrong,” he said. “You don’t censure somebody when they did nothing wrong.”
Mr. Trump also said he would love to have his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testify in the impeachment process but he thinks it is an “unfair witch hunt.”
“I don’t want them to testify when this is a total fix,” he said. “You know what a fix is? This is a fix.”
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