President Donald Trump met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House Wednesday, doubling down on requests for member countries to step up defense spending in order to increase prospects for global security.
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“We must … ensure that NATO members meet their financial obligations and pay what they owe. Many have not been doing that,” Trump said. “If other countries pay their fair share instead of relying on the United States to make up the difference, we will all be much more secure, and our partnership will be made that much stronger.”
Secretary General Stoltenberg thanked the president for his attention to the issue of fair burden-sharing, saying although defense spending in Europe has started to increase, members need to strengthen contributions in order to “keep our nations safe in a more dangerous world.”
President Trump also said he would inquire about debts owed by member nations that have not been meeting their financial obligations over the years.
The United States contributed more than 22% of the organization’s budget in 2016, according to White House data, which constituted 3.6% of U.S. GDP at $664 billion, far outpacing all other members. Out of all 28 countries that belonged to NATO at the start of this year, only five met the minimum contribution level in 2016—the U.S., Greece, the U.K., Estonia and Poland.
At a NATO meeting earlier this month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested each member state falling short of its financial obligations should create a payment plan to reach the 2%-of-GDP target by year’s end.
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"Our goal should be to agree at the May leaders meeting that by the end of the year all Allies will have either met the pledge guidelines or will have developed plans that clearly articulate how, with annual milestone progress commitments, the pledge will be fulfilled," Tillerson said.
The United States’ relationship with NATO has showed signs of strain since President Trump took office. Trump has been a strong critic of the intergovernmental military-based alliance, which, just prior to his inauguration, he called “obsolete” for its failure to make substantial headway in the fight against terror. On Wednesday the president stepped back this criticism, saying the organization was “no longer obsolete” and reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to the NATO alliance.
The president also said he spoke with the secretary general about “upgrading” NATO, particularly where it pertains to the fight against terrorism.
On Monday, President Trump supported Montenegro’s admission to NATO. It will become the 29th member of the organization.
Stoltenberg’s White House visit comes ahead of Trump’s scheduled trip to Brussels next month where he will attend a summit of NATO leaders.
While Stoltenberg has come out in support of the recent U.S. airstrikes in Syria, Trump told FOX Business Wednesday that the administration was not considering further military action in the region at this time. He did however implicate Russia for allowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to remain in power.
“If Russia didn’t go in and back this animal [Assad], you wouldn’t have a problem right now,” Trump said.