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The start of a two-day Nato summit was overshadowed by Donald Trump, as the US president hit out at his country’s allies, singling out Germany for criticism.
Mr Trump is angry at Berlin and other Nato members for what he sees as inadequate defence spending, large goods surpluses with the US and in the case of Germany, plans to increase gas imports from Russia.
Diplomats were already worried about the summit ahead of time, not least because of an abrasive G7 meeting last month, when Mr Trump renounced a summit communique that had previously been jointly agreed.
Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general, pictured here among alliance leaders, struck a diplomatic note about Mr Trump’s outspoken calls for other countries to live up to their goal of spending 2 per cent of their economic output on defence.
“Your message is having an impact, and we are going to build on that,” Mr Stoltenberg told the US president over toast and orange juice, before adding: “Let me also add that a strong Nato is good for Europe and it’s also good for the United States.”
Speaking of Mr Stoltenberg and his own campaign to convince other Nato countries to increase their defence spending, Mr Trump said: “We have a very good relationship. Because of me, they’ve raised about $40bn over the past year. So I think the secretary-general likes Trump. He may be the only one, but that’s OK with me.”
The US president was similarly effusive when he met German chancellor Angela Merkel. At breakfast he had spoken of Germany as a “captive” of Russia because of the two countries’ energy relationship, which he labelled “inappropriate”. But at the bilateral meeting he exulted: “We have a very, very good relationship with the Chancellor. We have a tremendous relationship with Germany.”
Arriving at Nato, Ms Merkel sought to put her country’s ties to the western alliance in historical context.
“There are many things for which Germany feels gratitude towards Nato. German unification and the unity of Europe — this had a lot to do with Nato,” she said, noting that Germany also contributed much to the alliance.
“We are the second-largest supplier of troops. We put the largest part of our military capabilities at the service of Nato . . . We are defending the interests of the US.”
Referring to her own past living in the now defunct East Germany, Ms Merkel added: “I personally experienced how a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union. I am very happy that we are today united in freedom as the federal republic.”
The meeting brought together Mr Trump and Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau, who irritated the US president at the G7 by declaring that his country would not be pushed around. Also present was France’s President Emmanuel Macron, who tried this year to charm Mr Trump into more harmonious transatlantic relationship, only to see the US president withdraw from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal and impose tariffs on European goods.
Mr Trump also spent time with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has recently been reelected and gained new powers as his country’s executive president. US Turkish relations have recently been strained because of issues ranging from Syria to Iran, but some diplomats say the two leaders — both criticised for their polarising politics — have established a bond.
Mr Trump dominated the day and is set to stay in the spotlight as he visits the UK and prepares for a summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The US president has made clear that he will continue on his drive on defence spending, and is now calling for Nato countries to increase their commitment for defence spending to 4 per cent of gross domestic product, double the previous target.