Trump Meeting With EU leaders 05/25 05:49
Visiting a city he once called a "hellhole" to meet with the leaders of one
alliance he threatened to abandon and another whose weakening he cheered,
President Donald Trump will address a continent Thursday still reeling from his
election and anxious about his support.
BRUSSELS (AP) -- Visiting a city he once called a "hellhole" to meet with
the leaders of one alliance he threatened to abandon and another whose
weakening he cheered, President Donald Trump will address a continent Thursday
still reeling from his election and anxious about his support.
Trump traveled Thursday morning to the European Union headquarters in
Brussels for meetings with Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council,
Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, and other EU
Trump appeared to be greeted warmly by the leaders, despite his past
comments publicly cheering the United Kingdom's vote to leave the EU last
summer and slamming the alliance during his transition as "a vehicle for
Germany." Trump has taken a less combative tone since taking office, praising
the alliance as "wonderful" and saying a strong Europe is very important to him
and the United States.
After meeting with Trump on Thursday at the EU, European Council president
Donald Tusk said he and the U.S. precedent agreed on the need to combat
terrorism but some differences loomed large.
"Some issues remain open, like climate and trade. And I am not 100 percent
sure that we can say today -- we means Mr. President and myself -- that we have
a common position, common opinions about Russia," said Tusk, who said unity
needed to be found around values like freedom and human rights and dignity.
"The greatest task today is the consolidation of the whole free world around
those values," he said.
Later in the day, Trump is slated to meet with France's new president and
attend his first meeting of NATO, the decades-long partnership that has become
intrinsic to safeguarding the West but has been rattled by the new president's
wavering on honoring its bonds. Trump has mused about pulling out of the pact
because he believed other countries were not paying their fair share and he has
so far refused to commit to abiding by Article 5, in which member nations vow
to come to each other's defense.
But the European capitals that have been shaken by Trump's doubts may soon
find a degree of reassurance. Just like his position on the EU, the president
has recently shifted gears, praising NATO's necessity. Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson said Wednesday that "of course" the United States supports Article 5,
though Trump still wants other nations to meet their obligation to spend 2
percent of their gross domestic product on defense.
"I think you can expect the president to be very tough on them, saying,
'Look the U.S. is spending 4 percent. We're doing a lot,'" Tillerson told
reporters on Air Force One. He also said he thought it would be "a very
important step" for NATO to join the 68-nation international coalition fighting
the Islamic State. The move, which is expected during Thursday's meeting, is
symbolically important, especially since the terror group claimed
responsibility Tuesday for a deadly explosion at an Ariana Grande concert in
An anti-terror coordinator may also be named. But most changes will be
cosmetic, as NATO allies have no intention of going to war against IS.
The 28 member nations, plus soon-to-join Montenegro, will renew an old vow
to move toward the 2 percent figure for defense by 2024. Only five members
currently meet the target: Britain, Estonia, debt-laden Greece, Poland and the
United States, which spends more on defense than all the other allies combined.
Many are skeptical about this arbitrary bottom line that takes no account of
effective military spending where it's needed most. But putting some meat on
the pledge, the leaders will agree to prepare action plans by the end of the
year, plotting how to reach 2 percent over the next seven years.
European leaders have been particularly unnerved by Trump's reticence about
NATO due to renewed aggression by Russia, which seized Crimea from the Ukraine
in 2014 and, intelligence officials believe, interfered in last year's American
While in Belgium, Trump will unveil a memorial to the terrorist attacks of
Sept. 11, 2001, the only time in the alliance's history that the Article 5
mutual defense pledge has been invoked. He will also speak at NATO's gleaming
new $1.2 billion new headquarters.
But while the Europeans greeted Trump warily, tens of thousands gathered in
Berlin to hear his predecessor and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discuss
democracy and global responsibility at a Protestant conference as the country
marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Barack Obama made a case for
American involvement internationally, saying "we can't isolate ourselves, we
can't hide behind a wall" in the hours before Merkel was set to meet Trump in
In total, Trump will spend about 24 hours in Brussels, a city where he said
making a home would be "like living in a hellhole" because of Muslim
immigration and terror threats.
Brussels is the fourth stop on Trump's nine-day international trip, the
first such trip of his presidency. Protests were slated to take place outside
the heavily guarded security perimeter near the city's airport and downtown. In
the wake of this week's Manchester bombing, Belgium remains on security Level 3
--- meaning that the threat of an extremist attack "is possible and likely."
The country has been on that level of alert since suicide-bomb attacks on the
Brussels airport and subway killed 32 people last year.
Trump is slated to leave Brussels late Thursday for the final piece of his
trip, a two-day stay in Sicily for G-7 meetings.