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Trump goes after Macron at start of NATO summit

December 3, 2019

The US president called Macron's "brain dead" remarks on NATO "nasty," saying he could see Paris leaving the military alliance. The comments set the tone for what is expected to be another tense summit among NATO allies.

Macron and Trump
Image: Reuters/L. Marin

US President Donald Trump kicked off a tense two-day NATO summit on Tuesday by criticizing French President Emmanuel Macron's comment about the "brain death" of the military alliance.

What Trump said on NATO:

Speaking to the press on the summit's sidelines, Trump:

  • Called Macron's comments "nasty," "insulting" and "very dangerous," adding: "Nobody needs NATO more than France." 
  • Denied US ties with the military alliance are shaky but said that he could "see France breaking off" from NATO.
  • Said that Russia "wants to make a deal" on nuclear control and arms control — and that he wants to bring in China into the talks.
  • Reiterated his call for European partners to increase defense spending — calling out Germany in particular for falling short.
  • Said "delinquent" countries that don't meet their NATO obligations will be dealt with, possibly through trade.
  • Voiced confidence that a "minor dispute" with France on trade could be worked out after he threatened new tariffs on French goods.
  • Said NATO was becoming bigger and stronger, and agreed with Macron that NATO needed more flexibility.

Read more: Why has French President Macron taken the lead in NATO-bashing?

How Macron responded:

  • The French president told reporters he stands by his "brain death" comments, even if they "shook up a lot of people."
  • He said NATO should not only be concerned about funding, but needed to refocus itself on new threats.
  • Macron pointed out that NATO members have different definitions of what constitutes terrorism.
  • He called on Turkish leaders to clarify their position at this summit, saying that "they now are fighting against those who fought with us; and sometimes they work with ISIS proxies," using another name for Islamic State (IS).

NATO expansion threat to Russia 

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country was open to cooperation with NATO.

"We have repeatedly expressed readiness to jointly resist real threats including international terrorism, local armed conflicts (and) the danger of uncontrolled proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," Putin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying.

Speaking at a meeting of military leaders in the Russian resort of Sochi, Putin criticized the alliance's continued expansion, which he said posed a threat to Russian security. 

He also argued that NATO was outdated, saying "bloc stereotypes of thinking of previous years cannot be an effective tool for seeking and taking effective decisions in the fast-changing conditions of the modern world." 

'No deadline' on China trade deal

Trump suggested that a long-awaited trade deal with China would have to wait until after the next US presidential election in November 2020 — with no end currently in sight to the ongoing trade war between Washington and Beijing.

"I have no deadline, no. In some ways I think it's better to wait until after the election with China," he told reporters.

US support for Turkey

Trump also defended his decision to pull US troops out of northern Syria and voiced his support of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — who subsequently launched an offensive against Kurdish forces in the region.

"I like Turkey and I get along very well with the president," Trump said. 

Ahead of the summit, Erdogan vowed to oppose a NATO plan to defend Baltic countries unless the alliance supports it in recognizing the Kurdish YPG militia as a terrorist group.

European leaders are due to question Erdogan at the summit over his actions in northern Syria.

The leaders of NATO's 29 members have gathered in London for a summit to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the transatlantic military alliance.

Conflict Zone Q + A with Ibrahim Kalin

nm,rs/ng (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP)

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