Donald Trump unleashed his fury on NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday for defending Germany's energy partnership with Russia and threatened Berlin with U.S. action over the deal that he said is wholly inappropriate.
Trump fumed that 'Germany is a captive of Russia' and said the U.S. would 'have to do something' in light of the pipeline deal that's funneling billions into Moscow's economy.
'Germany is totally controlled by Russia,' he charged. 'I think its a very bad thing for NATO,' Trump said.
Stoltenberg reminded that the U.S. and Europe are 'stronger together than apart' and that has been proven by two World Wars and the alliance's dealings with Russia. Trump told him in response, 'No, you're just making Russia richer. You're not dealing with Russia, you're making Russia richer.'
The confrontation stunned the leaders' senior advisers, including Trump's secretaries of defense and state. A press aide demanded the media leave the room as Trump pushed Stoltenberg to explain how the U.S. is supposed to protect Germany when it's opening its front door to Vladimir Putin.
The White House subsequently said that Trump would hold private talks in the afternoon on the sidelines of the NATO summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Stoltenberg inadvertently whipped up the U.S. president at an internationally broadcast breakfast by asking him about his upcoming meeting with Putin. Trump responded with another tirade on Germany and its weaknesses while griping again about lagging contributions from member nations to the NATO alliance.
Trump gave Stoltenberg an earful with media present, telling the visibly startled NATO chief, 'We're protecting Germany. We're protecting France. We're protecting everybody, and yet, we're paying a lot of money to protect.'
Trump said that past presidents did not confront America's allies because they did not want to meddle in their affairs or they were blind to the problem.
'I think that these countries have to step it up — not over a 10-year-period — they have to step it up immediately,' Trump demanded. 'Germany is a rich country. They talk about they're gonna increase it a tiny bit by 2030. Well, they could increase it immediately tomorrow and have no problem.'
The United States' more than 4 percent GDP contribution to the security group compared to its European allies is 'very unfair' to the American taxpayer, he said in a familiar complaint.
'I don't think it's fair to the United States, so we're going to have to do something, because were not gonna put up with it. We can't put up with it, and it's inappropriate,' Trump proclaimed .'So we have to talk about the billions and billions of dollars that's being paid to the country that we're supposed to be protecting you against.'
Trump began the rant by telling Stoltenberg it's 'very sad' when Germany, France and 'numerous of the countries go out and then make a pipeline deal with Russia' and then expect the U.S. to foot the bill for their security.
'So we’re supposed to protect you against Russia but they’re paying billions of dollars to Russia, and I think that’s very inappropriate,' Trump said. 'And the former chancellor of Germany is the head of the pipeline company that’s supplying the gas.'
Trump informed Stoltenberg that 'Germany will have almost 70 percent of their country controlled by Russia with natural gas' when the deal is fully realized.
'So you tell me is that appropriate?' he said. 'I mean I’ve been complaining about this from the time I got in. It should never have never been allowed to have happened.
'But Germany is totally controlled by Russia, because they will be getting from 60 to 70 percent of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline. And you tell me if that’s appropriate, because I think it’s not. And I think it’s a very bad thing for NATO, and I don’t think it should have happened, and I think we have to talk to Germany about it.'
In bringing up the gas deal, Trump returned to an issue he has raised before his trip that seeks to both put Germany on the defensive while simultaneously pushing back on the narrative that it is the U.S. that is cozying up to Moscow.
In March, Germany reached a deal to allow Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom to run its Nord Stream 2 pipeline through its waters. The 9.5 billion pound deal immediately outraged East European allies.
Russia has used its oil and gas to pressure and punish its neighbors. The move came just a day after Germany joined UK in protesting the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Great Britain.
The pipeline will send Russian oil and gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea. Poland and other Eastern European countries fear the pipeline could leave them vulnerable to Russian pressure.
This May, a State Department official weighed in against the project. Deputy Assistant Secretary Sandra Oudkirk said the pipeline could allow Russia to exert ‘malign influence’ in Europe. But the pipeline company said the project wouldn’t be used to blackmail other countries.
Stoltenberg unequivocally said at a news conference that followed his meeting with Trump that the pipeline deal is 'a national decision' and 'its not for NATO to decide.'
'It's not for NATO to solve this issue,' he stated.
Trump bashed Germany over the pipeline issue at a campaign rally last Thursday in Montana, where he also raised the pipeline issue.
‘They go out and make a gas deal, oil and gas, from Russia, where they pay billions and billions of dollars to Russia. They want to protect against Russia and yet they pay billions of dollars to Russia, Trump said then.
He said at the rally that he told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he could not ensure he nation's security as a result.
Germany's defense minister told CNBC after Trump's assault on her country on Thursday that two weeks ago she had occasion to visit the United States and was reassured by her conversations with American lawmakers of the strength of the alliance.
'The president is as the president is. We know him and we can cope with that,' Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen told CNBC from outside of NATO's headquarter. 'This rhetoric also leads us to remember that a lot is at stake.'
Von der Leyen said that generations that came of age after WII have taken peace granted. 'Now, we have to fight for democracy. We have to secure our international order, our peace architecture,' she said.
It was Trump who had arrived in Brussels on the defense on Tuesday after the EU Council's head berated him at an off-site event that was attached to the NATO summit.
Trump had signaled in early morning tweets on Tuesday that foreign leaders could expect a reckoning when he sees them this week in Brussels at the NATO summit over the 'unfair' burden on the U.S. taxpayer to pay for Europe's protection.
He was met with an immediate brush-back from European Council chief Donald Tusk, who said at a signing of a joint declaration between the Brussels-based security alliance and the body of EU nations, that Trump should be more careful with his taunts.
'America does not have and will not have a better ally than Europe. Today Europeans spend on defense many times more than Russia and as much as China,' he said in remarks that were addressed to Trump. 'And I think you can have no doubt, Mr. President, that this is an investment in common American and European defense and security.'
Then, in the toughest challenge yet to the U.S. president, Tusk said: 'America: appreciate your allies. After all you don’t have that many.'
Trump fired back minutes later as he left the White House en route to NATO.
'We do have a lot of allies. But we cannot be taken advantage of. We’re being taken advantage of by the European Union,' he told DailyMail.com. 'We lost $151 billion last year on trade, and on top of that we spend at least 70 per cent for NATO, and frankly it helps them a lot more than it helps us. So we'll see what happens.'
Trump had invited the challenge in the lead-up to the alliance's summertime summit by pillorying NATO member nations in almost-day tirades.
Just prior to Tusk's comments on Tuesday, Trump complained that the United States is bearing the brunt of the 29-nation security alliance's costs and said that it's not fair to Americans, especially when the U.S. is getting hosed in the markets.
'The U.S. is spending many times more than any other country in order to protect them. Not fair to the U.S. taxpayer,' he griped. 'On top of that we lose $151 Billion on Trade with the European Union. Charge us big Tariffs (& Barriers)!'
After Tusk's slap at him - which the EU Council leader also tweeted at Trump - the president doubled down on his position, saying, 'NATO countries must pay MORE, the United States must pay LESS. Very Unfair!'
Tusk had acknowledged in his remarks that European countries need to step up their contributions.
'Everyone expects an ally that is well-prepared and equipped,' he said.
The EU Council chief assessed that 'money is important' yet said that 'genuine solidarity is even more important.'
'Speaking about solidarity, I want to dispel the American president’s argument which says that the U.S. alone protects Europe against our enemies, and threat the U.S. is almost alone in this struggle,' he said in a repudiation of Trump's statements.
Tusk argued that Europe 'was first to respond on a large scale' when terrorists attacked the U.S. on 9/11. He further noted that European soldiers have been fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with American soldiers in Afghanistan.
Trump refused to climb down from his position as he spoke to reporters on Tuesday morning local time from the White House's South Lawn.
'NATO has not treated us fairly, but I think we'll work something out. We pay far too much and they pay far too little,' he said. 'But we will work it out and all countries will be happy.'
He acknowledged that the relationship between the U.S. and many of its traditional allies had soured in the nearly 18 months since he took office. He said a meeting next week with the Russian president may be the 'easiest' leg of his four-nation visit to Europe.
With Trump in the air, it was his NATO Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison who was left to do the talking for him at a news conference where Trump's flattery of Putin and his disagreements with Merkel and Tusk came up.
Hutchison told reporters that Trump backs Article 5 of NATO's charter, which specifies that an attack on one is an attack on all.
'He is committed to Article 5 protection just as it is in he NATO charter,' she told press who arrived at the NATO summit in advance of the U.S. president.
She also stressed that 'the importance of unity in NATO is what makes us different' from other alliances that the U.S. and Europe are a part of.
'I will say that in all of the disagreements that have happened between President Trump and the United States' position and the EU,' Hutchsion said, 'our allies in NATO have remained steadfastly focused on the NATO issues, and we are in agreement, we are in unity on our security issues, and we are an alliance that has performed better, increasing our capabilities.'
Hutchison said that while Trump is hard on Germany, for instance, he believes he is 'pulling them toward us, not away from us.'
Stoltenberg thanked Trump for the push at a news conference kicking off the summit on Tuesday.
'It is clearly having an impact,' he said. 'We estimate that European Allies and Canada will add an extra 266 billion USD to defense between now and 2024. This is significant.'
Stoltenberg said that eight countries would hit their contribution targets this year compared to three in 2014.
At the presser he said he was confident that leaders would be able to put their differences over trade aside as they have done in the past, because NATO has a good story to tell.
When it comes to defense spending, he said, it is true that the burden sharing has not been fairly distributed. That is why Canada and European nations that are part of the alliance are stepping up their donations.
'I would not be surprised if we had robust discussions at the summit, including on defense spending,' he said. 'Different views are common between friends and allies.'
Just how robust they would get, even he did not seem to have imagined. The NATO secretary general was pummeled in his Wednesday morning breakfast by a fired-up Trump.
Trump indicated Tuesday that he was chagrined about the United States' trade relationship with allies that are part of the Brussels-based security organization NATO and intended to make their contributions to its defense fund the focal point of his conversations in Brussels.
Just 16 countries are on track to meet the agreed up spending obligation of 2 percent GDP, the United States has said, in accordance with a 2014 pact.
In tweets on Monday Trump berated the rest for relying on the United States for protection, while at the same time running massive trade deficits with the U.S.
The president directly linked the trade discrepancies that inspired his heavy tariffs on metal imports to Western security in tweets that contradicted his NATO ambassador's assessment a day prior that the policies should be evaluated separately from one another.
'NATO benefits Europe far more than it does the U.S. By some accounts, the U.S. is paying for 90% of NATO, with many countries nowhere close to their 2% commitments,' Trump said. 'On top of this the European Union has a Trade Surplus of $151 Million with the U.S., with big Trade Barriers on U.S. goods. NO!'
The president put trade on the table in talks that begin Wednesday in Brussels with the tweets that shifted the focus from his Supreme Court appointment. He announced Brett Kavanaugh as his nominee at a Monday night event.
Trump departed the U.S. for Belgium, where NATO recently opened new headquarters, in the morning on Tuesday. He meets with European allies all day Wednesday and part of Thursday before a short stop in London for a working visit with Theresa May. Hell also have a private audience with the queen.
His trip to Brussels was looking to be a repeat of the testy confrontation he had with leaders from allied nations in June at the G7 summit in Charlevoix.
He butted heads with them on trade in Canada, also, complaining that NATO is 'much too costly for the U.S' and almost as bad as the North American Free Trade Agreement.
In Belgium, he will come face-to-face with Canada's Justin Trudeau for the first time since senior aides to Trump accused the prime minister of trying to sabotage the American president's Singapore summit.
Trump will face opposition in Brussels from almost all of NATO's 29 member nations over his worldwide steel and aluminum tariffs. The EU and Canada have retaliated with stiff penalties of their own on American-made products.
He will also enter uncomfortable talks about the alliance's security posture, as well as the United States' in response to his decision to conclude his trip to Europe with a tacked on stop in Finland to negotiate with NATO nemesis and Russian head of state Vladimir Putin.
The president who has groused since he was a candidate about NATO burden sharing was expected to pressure member nations in Brussels to meet the soft goal of two percent GDP for defense spending that was agreed to by the group years before he took office.
'The United States is spending far more on NATO than any other Country. This is not fair, nor is it acceptable. While these countries have been increasing their contributions since I took office, they must do much more. Germany is at 1%, the U.S. is at 4%,' Trump harped in a message on Monday.
He has singled out Germany as a violator incessantly. His defense secretary recently put a microscope on spending by the contribution-abiding U.K. in a new twist of the knife, as well, in a letter that leaked to The Sun.
Trump hammered Germany at a Thursday evening rally, in Montana, where he claimed that he told the country's chancellor, Angela Merkel, that he believes Europe is benefited more by the security alliance because of its proximity to Russia than the U.S.
Germany puts 1.2 percent of its GDP toward the collective defense of NATO nations compared to the United States' 4 percent, Trump pointed out, rounding Berlin's contribution down.
He repeated the charge in tweets on Monday in which he again brought up the EU's trade deficit with the United States.
A day prior, Hutchison, had insisted on Fox News that trade and security were not related and should not be a subject of NATO talks.
'One thing I will say is that in all of the disagreements that we have seen at the G7 and with allies with whom we are now having trade talks and negotiations and tariffs, that has not come up in the NATO context,' she stated. 'Our diplomats are professional and they are staying on our NATO issues, where we are 100 percent allied.'
She said prior to the summit that Russia's 'malign activities' and a 'rising China' would be the foremost topics.
The president on Friday slapped $34 billion in tariffs on China that were aimed at reducing a trade deficit with the country that the U.S. has also accused of rampant and intentional intellectual property violations.
But he is said to have told France's Emmanuel Macron that the EU is worse than China on trade in some ways when they met in Canada last month.
The rift over trade and the president's planned talks with Putin set the stage for more tension in Belgium.
Hucthison pointed out on Sunday that Trump's way of doing business had been effective, though, pointing to increased contributions to NATO since he took office.
'NATO really is making progress and they are doing it really at President Trump's insistence, and I think that it's very clear, and he's been very direct about the Europeans needing to do more for their own security,' she said. 'Every ally is now increasing defense spending.'
Trump's liaison to NATO said, 'We've had the largest increase in defense spending since the Cold War. And in the year and a half since President Trump has been in office, it has doubled since 2014.
'So, I think he is making an impact and I think that the Europeans, including Chancellor Merkel just recently who has said we are going to do more,' she said. 'We need to do more, it's the right thing to do and she is encouraging her Bundestag, her parliament, to increase the defense budget so that we will be more fit for purpose in NATO for the fights that we want to deter.'
Merkel said last month in a speech to parliament that she anticipates 'very difficult' talks in Brussels in a reference to the increasingly complicated relationship between Germany and the United States in the era of Donald Trump.
'It is no secret that the transatlantic alliance is under strain at the moment but we are convinced that the alliance remains central to our common security,' the European leader stated.
Trump hit back at her on Thursday evening, saying in remarks at a campaign event for a U.S. Senate candidate that Europe is killing America on trade and paying Russia billions for oil and gas all while complaining that it needs protection from Putin and his military.
'We're paying anywhere from 70- to 90-percent to protect Europe. And that's fine. Of course, they kill us on trade. They kill us on other things,' he proclaimed. 'So they want to protect against Russia, yet they pay billions of dollars to Russia and we're the schmucks paying for the whole thing.'
The president said he told Merkel in an undated conversation that he couldn't commit to protecting Germany from Putin's army.
'Putin is fine. He's fine. We're all people,' he said. 'Will I be prepared? I've been preparing for this stuff all my life.'
Hutchison said Sunday that she does not agree with the president's assessment of Putin. She said Trump is right, however, to engage with the former KGB spy who has personally been accused by the U.S. of directing a scheme to disrupt the 2016 presidential election.
'We should be talking to Vladimir Putin and many of our allied nations do as well,' she said. 'But it is to try to bring them in the tent instead of just constantly seeing them do these things that are attempting to disrupt us, but will not.'
She claimed on Tuesday at a news conference that Trump was saying at this rally that he was 'not certain' that Germany could pay out more money to NATO, not that he was unclear about the United States' continued ability to protect the ally from Russia.
'I think that the president believes that Germany is one of our strongest partners,' she asserted.
Von der Leyen said Wednesday on CNBC that Trump is right that Germany needs to increase its defense contribution - and it has. The German defense minister said her country also backs Trump's summit next week with Putin.
'It is good that he talking to President Putin,' she said. 'We have a lot of issues with Russia without question, but its good to be in a dialogue.'
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.