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Trump and Merkel trade barbs over Russia pipeline at Nato meet

Trump calls Germany a captive of Russia; Merkel says Germany makes its own sovereign decisions

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Germany's Mrs Merkel and US' President Trump at a photo call at the start of the Nato summit in Brussels on Wednesday.

Washington

DONALD Trump and Angela Merkel got off to a prickly start at a Nato summit as the US president blasted Germany over its support for a gas pipeline from Russia, prompting a tart response from the chancellor.

The US leader said ahead of the meeting with Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday morning: "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."

Mr Trump added: "If you look at it, Germany is a captive of Russia, because they supply - they got rid of their coal plants, got rid of their nuclear, they're getting so much of the oil and gas from Russia. I think it's something Nato has to look at."

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The broadside came at the opening of a two-day summit of North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders that risks being overshadowed by Mr Trump's public questioning of the value of the generations-old alliance.

The president, who is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland next week, has linked US spending for Europe's defence with America's trade deficit with the world's largest trading bloc.

On her arrival, Mrs Merkel said Germany was doing its bit for Nato, and cited operations in Afghanistan as evidence it was helping defend US interests.

She then went on to stress Germany's right to make decisions in its own interests. "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 make sovereign decisions. That's a very good thing, especially for people in the former east."

Germany's Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen responded more directly to the Nord Stream criticism in a BBC interview at the summit: "We can cope with it. We've heard him before and seen the tweets. We have an independent energy supply, we are an independent country, we are just diversifying."

Mr Trump said in Brussels, before attending the summit at Nato's headquarters: "Many countries owe us. The United States is paying far too much and other countries are not paying enough... This has been going on for decades, for decades, it's disproportionate and not fair to the taxpayers of the United States."

The combative rhetoric suggests this summit may follow the trajectory of last month's Group of Seven meeting in Canada. Mr Trump had aired his gripes about trade with Canada before traveling to the G-7, and dramatically withdrew his name from the summit's negotiated communique to protest critical comments by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after the meeting. Mr Trudeau and Mrs Merkel will both attend the Nato talks.

Mr Stoltenberg said: "Nato is an an alliance of 29 nations and sometimes there are differences and different views and also some disagreements, and the gas pipeline from Russia to Germany is one issue where allies disagree. "But the strength of Nato is that, despite these differences, we have always been able to unite around our core task, to protect and defend each other, because we understand we are stronger together than apart." BLOOMBERG