President Donald Trump on Friday said he has “strong support” for NATO and declared he is not an “isolationist” on free trade. But he emphasized during a White House summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that member nations must contribute their “fair share” to support the security alliance.
At a joint news conference, Trump said some NATO countries owe “vast sums” in dues, which is “very unfair to the United States” – an allegation that appeared based on an incomplete understanding of how the alliance is funded.
“These nations must pay what they owe,” Trump said, with Merkel standing next to him in the East Room.
Yet Trump misstated how NATO financing works, saying that each nation agreed to contribute 2 percent of gross domestic product. In fact, outside of relatively small assessments to pay the physical costs of operating NATO headquarters and command facilities, the organization long ago set a goal that each member would devote at least 2 percent of GDP to defense in their own budgets.
The members contribute their capabilities to NATO, not monetary assessments. Those who haven’t reached 2 percent, which is the majority of nations, don’t “owe” or have to make up shortfalls of the past.
During the news conference, Trump also addressed immigration in the wake of decisions this week by federal judges to suspend, for a second time, his attempt to temporarily halt the U.S. refugee program and to impose a travel ban on six majority-Muslim nations from the Middle East and Northern Africa.
“Immigration is a privilege, not a right,” Trump said, adding that “the safety of our citizens must always come first.”
Merkel’s decision to welcome large numbers of Syrian refugees stands in sharp contrast to Trump’s insistence that the U.S.’s refugee program has made the country vulnerable to terrorist infiltration.
Merkel acknowledged the need to secure borders and work to integrate immigrants into society, but she emphasized that such goals have “to be done while looking at the refugees as well, given them the opportunity to shape their lives.”
The White House summit marked a high-stakes first meeting for the leaders who have clashed on a range of issues. Trump was sharply critical of Merkel during the presidential campaign, accusing her of “ruining Germany” over her more liberal policies on free trade and Syrian refugees. He has also expressed support for Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
Ahead of the news conference, the two sat for a brief photo op for reporters in the Oval Office, they said little and did not shake hands, though they did shake when Trump met her limousine outside the West Wing.
“It’s always better to talk to one another than about one another,” Merkel said through an interpreter at the news conference.
But there was little overt warmth between the two during their public appearances, and Trump made an awkward joke after being asked by a German reporter whether he stood by statements that his home base at Trump Tower in New York had been wiretapped by the Obama administration and British intelligence agents.
President Barack Obama and the British eavesdropping agency known as GCHQ have denied the allegations, and some leading Republican lawmakers have said there is no evidence to support the claims.
Trump did not back off his allegations, though he suggested he had been simply repeating assertions made by a “very talented lawyer” who had appeared on Fox News.
“At least we have something in common perhaps,” Trump said, looking at Merkel in an apparent reference to disclosures in 2013 that U.S. intelligence agencies had monitored her private cellphone for more than a decade.
Merkel did not respond to Trump’s remarks.
The friction between Trump and Merkel is a sharp contrast to Merkel’s warm relationship with Obama, whose world view was largely aligned with Merkel’s on many issues. Her summit with Trump was being closely watched at home and abroad for signs of how the two leaders will engage each other, which could help determine the future of U.S. support for the European Union and NATO.
As much as Trump has rejected the linchpins of the post-World War II international order and Merkel has been its defender, German officials insisted her visit is intended to strengthen the relationship between the longtime allies.
Beyond their seemingly divergent world view, the two leaders could not be more different in terms of personality. Trump is a brash, outspoken businessman and Merkel a staid and reserved trained scientist.
Merkel arrived in Washington with an entourage that included German business executives to emphasize the important economic ties between the nations. Trump has opposed multilateral trade deals, and talks on a major U.S.-European pact called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which had been negotiated by the Obama administration, has bogged down.
Trump said he is not anti-trade, but wants “fair trade,” and he reiterated his past criticism that U.S. trade policies have harmed American workers.
Trump also was asked about legislative efforts, backed by the White House, to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would ultimately be approved by Congress, despite widespread concerns among Republicans. Trump has sharply criticized “Obamacare” as a failing law, despite a review from the independent Congressional Budget Office that said up to 24 million Americans could lose health care coverage under the GOP proposal to replace it.
“It’s going to be passed, I believe,” said Trump, who met with conservative Republicans to talk about the bill on Friday morning. He said the group of lawmakers committed to supporting a version of the legislation, though he offered no specifics about the talks. “It’s coming together beautifully. We have conservative groups, other groups, everybody wants certain things.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post