President Donald Trump has told his NATO allies in Brussels that all members of the alliance must pay their fair share of defense spending.
“Massive amounts of money” were owed, President Trump said, voicing a long-held US concern that others are not paying enough.
However, NATO states’ contributions are voluntary and a target of spending 2% of GDP on defense is only a guideline.
Again condemning May 22 bombing in Manchester, Donald Trump said terrorism must be “stopped in its tracks”.
The president called for a moment of silence in memory of the 22 adults and children killed in the “savage attack”.
Before visiting NATO’s new HQ, which was formally opened at May 25 gathering, Donald Trump met several EU leaders for the first time, including France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron.
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Donald Trump’s first foreign tour as president will end on the Italian island of Sicily at a G7 summit on May 26.
According to NATO’s 2016 annual report, only five countries met the 2% defense spending target – the US, the UK, Greece, Poland and Estonia.
The alliance hopes that all 28 member-states will reach this target by 2024.
“This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States, and many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years and [from] not paying in those past years,” Donald Trump said.
Germany spent 1.2% on defense in that period, but Berlin argues that its spending on development aid also contributes to international security.
Donald Trump has been criticized for his admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. and his administration is embroiled in allegations of close ties with Russian interests.
However, at NATO HQ, Donald Trump said: “The NATO of the future must include a great focus on terrorism and immigration, as well as on threats from Russia and on NATO’s eastern and southern borders.”
There was some concern that President Trump had not mentioned Article Five, NATO’s commitment to mutual defense in the event of an attack on a member, but an unnamed White House official told Reuters that the president stood united with other NATO leaders.
Earlier, European Council President Donald Tusk said after meeting Donald Trump: “I’m not 100% sure we can say that we have a common position… on Russia although when it comes to the conflict on Ukraine we were on the same line.”
The NATO summit will see the alliance agree to a US plan for the military alliance to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamist militants, particularly jihadist group ISIS – but France and Germany insist the move is symbolic.
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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: “Today we will decide to expand our support to the coalition with more AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System] flight time, more information sharing and air-to-air refueling.
“This will send a strong political message of NATO’s commitment to the fight against terrorism and also improve our coordination within the coalition but it does not mean that NATO will engage in combat operations.”
Ahead of May 25 meetings, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters that President Trump “really wants to persuade NATO members to step up and fully meet their obligations”.
He added: “I think you can expect the president to be very tough on them and say… <<We are doing a lot. The American people are doing a lot for your security, for joint security. You need to make sure you’re doing your share for your own security as well>>.
“That’s going to be the core of his message to NATO.”
Rex Tillerson also said President Trump had yet to make a final decision on whether the US would remain in the Paris climate agreement.
Before going to NATO HQ, where he will deliver a short speech, Donald Trump is due to have a private lunch with new French President Emmanuel Macron after meeting the leaders of the European Commission and European Council.
Emmanuel Macron is expected to try to persuade Donald Trump not to renege on the Paris climate accord.