UPDATE (5:50 a.m. PT) — In a stunning public dressing-down of NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, President Trump fired off criticisms of the alliance, reiterating his complaint that it is not paying enough for defense and singling out a German oil-and-gas pipeline deal with Russia.
In what was supposed to be a brief photo op ahead of a bilateral breakfast meeting, Trump appeared to catch the secretary-general off guard, launching into the broadside as cameras clicked away and Stoltenberg struggled to get a word in.
“Well, I have to say I think it’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia when you’re supposed to be guarding against Russia,” Trump said, flanked by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Kay Bailey Hutchison, the U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO.
“So, we’re protecting Germany, we’re protecting France, we’re protecting all of these countries,” the president said. “And then numerous of the countries go out and make a pipeline deal with Russia where they’re paying billions of dollars into the coffers of Russia. So, we are supposed to protect you against Russia.”
“You tell me if that is appropriate?” Trump said as he unloaded on Stoltenberg. “Germany is totally controlled by Russia.”
“It’s very unfair to our country, it’s very unfair to our taxpayers,” he said, adding, “We can’t put up with it.”
Trump was referring to a 2015 agreement between Russian gas giant Gazprom and Germany to build a pipeline under the Baltic Sea. Despite German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s tough talk over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and sponsorship of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, she has defended the $11 billion pipeline deal to supply her country’s energy shortfall.
Merkel, who arrived at the summit after Trump spoke, responded by saying that Germany makes independent decisions.
“I’ve 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,” she was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.
On the edge of his seat as Trump spoke, Stoltenberg interjected, stressing that NATO members have always been able to work together.
“Despite the differences, we’ve always pledged to defend each other,” he said of the alliance.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Stoltenberg thanked Trump for his leadership in pushing member states toward the goal of spending 2 percent of their GDP on defense, while the U.S. spends closer to 3.5 percent. “It is clearly having an impact,” he said.
Before entering the tense breakfast meeting, Trump told reporters that “because of me,” NATO as a whole had raised its defense spending by $40 billion.
“So I think the secretary-general likes Trump. He may be the only one but that’s OK with me,” the president said moments before the public rebuke of Stoltenberg.
Trump is scheduled to meet Merkel at the summit later Wednesday, where White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, speaking to reporters, said she expected the president to reiterate his concerns over the pipeline deal.
Trump is also expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday. [Copyright 2018 NPR]