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Trump reaffirms Nato pledge as allies rebut higher spending call
PRESIDENT Donald Trump affirmed the US commitment to Nato, but only after dragging top allies - Germany in particular - through a chaotic two days of insults, accusations and demands for more military spending.
The US president, in a news conference hastily arranged on Thursday to address reports he had privately threatened to pull out of the post-World War II alliance if countries don't rapidly raise their defence spending, said he believes he could leave Nato without Congress' authorisation. But he said doing so would be "unnecessary" because countries had agreed to spend more.
Mr Trump was vague on the details of any new financial commitments or timelines. US allies played down his assertions that they've raised spending targets above levels agreed upon in 2014. Mr Trump insisted his divisive posture throughout the Nato meeting would not - as some critics have suggested - play into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom Mr Trump is to meet next week.
Persuading Western nations to spend more on their militaries isn't something Russia wants, the president said.
"Everyone's agreed to substantially up their commitment," Mr Trump said at the news conference in Brussels. He said that allies had agreed to raise defense spending by US$33 billion amid his reported threats to withdraw.
"I just want fairness for the United States," he said.
Mr Trump wouldn't confirm that he'd threatened to pull the US from the defense bloc, though he acknowledged that he'd been more assertive about pressuring allies to increase their defense spending.
He said the US commitment to the 29-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization remains very strong and cited "the additional money they will be putting up" and "the level of spirit in that room" during the meetings.
In an unexpected twist, Nato leaders held an unplanned emergency session on the last day of the summit after it was upended by Mr Trump's attacks on allies.
One Nato government official said the morning meeting on Thursday was taking place against the backdrop of Mr Trump threatening allies to "go it alone" unless they agreed to increase their defense budgets immediately.
While Mr Trump claimed victory, European leaders were more reticent on their spending plans. French President Emmanuel Macron came closest to contradicting the US leader, saying that Nato members "agreed to raise spending as they agreed in 2014". That's a reference to a commitment made at a previous summit to halt declines in defense outlays and "move towards" a goal of spending 2 per cent of gross domestic product by 2024.
"Everyone agreed to respect the commitments they made," Mr Macron said. "We reaffirmed a credible budget strategy that meets our needs."
Chancellor Angela Merkel said that in Germany "we know that we need to do more - and that we're already doing so. The change in trend has long since begun".
"We'll have to talk about to what extent we can do more on defense," she said. "We presented the current situation. But considering the discussion among the European allies, not only the Americans, I think we need to ask ourselves consistently what more we can do." BLOOMBERG