WATFORD, England (AP) — Aiming to play the role of global statesman as the impeachment drama was unfolding in Washington, President Donald Trump instead shattered NATO’s professed message of unity at its 70th anniversary celebration in England and put his personal and policy differences with alliance members on stark display.
Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “two-faced” and French President Emanuel Macron “nasty” during a 52-hour trip that exposed the alliance’s divisions on military budgets and relations with Turkey, as well as the U.S. leader’s own unconventional ways on the world stage.
At the same time, he found it difficult to leave behind events in Washington, lashing out as House Democrats resumed their push for impeachment over Trump’s call for Ukraine to investigate a political rival. He said it was “sad” that Democrats were pushing ahead with the inquiry when “there was no crime whatsoever and they know it.”
Trump, looking to showcase foreign policy wins as he heads into an election year, offered a more optimistic outlook for NATOs future. He took credit for boosting the share of NATO nations that are meeting the alliance’s goal of spending 2% of gross domestic on defense and sought to pressure more countries to increase their military budgets. But he also put a spotlight on his administration’s lingering to-do list: ending a China trade war he instigated, passing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement as well as trade deals with the European Union and Britain.
A day after Trudeau was overheard gossiping about Trump during a reception at Buckingham Palace, Trump called the Canadian leader “two-faced.” In an unguarded conversation, Trudeau told leaders, including Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, that “he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top,” an apparent reference to Trump’s long and unscheduled question-and-answer session with journalists earlier that day.
“The truth is that I called him out on the fact that he’s not paying 2% and I guess he’s not very happy about it,” Trump said. Later, seeming to relish the spat, Trump remarked “That was funny when I said that guy was two-faced.”
Relations between Trump and Macron, once the American president’s closest European ally, deteriorated a day earlier in feisty exchanges on live television.
First, Trump laced into the French president for what he called “very, very nasty” comments by Macron, who had lamented NATO’s “brain death” under Trump’s leadership of the U.S. Then, in a later meeting on the sidelines of the summit, Macron rebuked Trump over his insistence that Europe repatriate its citizens who fought with the Islamic State group, as well as his unilateral decision to withdraw American troops from northeast Syria.
Trump also declared NATO to be the healthiest it’s ever been even as the alliance is grappling with fundamental questions about its funding and whether its requirement for mutual defense still makes sense as it confronts threats that now extend beyond Russia to a rising China and international terrorism.
To help ease tensions, leaders agreed to “a forwarding-looking reflection process” to be led by Stoltenberg. Details were sketchy, but the commission, “drawing on relevant expertise,” would study ways “to further strengthen NATO’s political dimension including consultation.”
Germany and France had both put forward similar schemes, although Macron riled many allies with his pre-summit remarks and NATO officials have pointedly suggested that they were more impressed by Berlin’s proposal.
After three summits in consecutive years, the leaders decided that they would take a year off and meet again in 2021. That means there won’t be another one until after the next presidential election in the United States, which is by far NATO’s most powerful and influential member country.
Summit host Prime Minister Boris Johnson — also busy with a divisive British election campaign — was upbeat, saying “there was a mood of very great solidarity and determination and a willingness to push NATO forward, not just for the next few years but for the next 70 years.”