President Donald Trump reiterated the U.S. commitment to NATO and claimed credit for an agreement that he says will "significantly" increase military spending among the twenty-nine member states.
Trump avoided commenting directly on reports that he had threatened to pull out of the alliance, but nonetheless said he "probably could" withdraw from the treaty without congressional approval. However, he said such a move wasn't necessary given the agreements reached following a two-day summit in Brussels in which he took a "very firm" tone with its alliance allies.
"I believe in NATO," the President said during a hastily-arranged press conference in the Belgian capital. "The U.S. commitment to NATO remains very strong and NATO is much stronger than it was two days ago."
Trump said he had persuaded member state to quickly boost their military spending commitments to 2% of GDP, after which he'll press for that figure to go higher. The President claimed the extra spending, which he ignited last year, have "raised $33 billion".
"Prior to last yer, my first meeting, the amount of spending was falling substantially and now it's going up very substantially," Trump said. "We are doing numbers like they've never seen before."
French President Emmanuel Macron repeated his country's commitment to increase spending to 2% of GDP by 2024 -- an agreement reached prior to yesterday's summit -- and said that going to 4% of GDP might not be a "good idea" for the alliance.
However, Macron insisted that Trump "never at any moment, either in public or in private" threatened to withdraw from the NATO alliance.
The comments follow reports that he slammed NATO leaders again Thursday over what he has described as a lack of financial commitment to the military defence of America's European allies, with one report suggesting he threatened to pull out of the alliance if spending from some of the region's bigger economies isn't immediately increased.
Germany's DWP news service said Trump made the treat in a closed-door meeting in which he repeated his frustration with slow spending increases from Germany and France, which he claims falls short of prior agreements with previous administrations.
However, other news organisations said Trump fell short of a withdraw threat, which would need approval from the U.S. Senate, but instead had harsh words for his NATO allies.
Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel, described the summit atmosphere as "intense" and said the President demanded a change in "burden sharing" among NATO member states but insisted that security issues were separate from trade and tariff discussions.
The President's Tweets on NATO, as well as his comments yesterday which described Germany as being "captive" to Moscow as a result of its dependence on gas from Russia pumped via the 760-mile Nord Stream pipleline that bypasses the Ukraine under the Baltic Sea, suggest he's either prepared to pull the U.S. out of another international alliance or is using the two-day summit to advance his trade ambitions with the European Union, whom he has repeatedly accused of running an unfair surplus.
European discomfort with that tactic, however, is compounded by the fact that Trump is set to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, a long-time critic of the NATO alliance, next week in Helsinki.
Putin, whom Trump called "a competitor, not an enemy", is likely to push for an end to U.S. military exercises in the Baltics, as well as the easing of Washington-led sanctions on Russian businesses following Putin's annexation of the Crimea in 2014. Trump, for his part, will be pushed to raise the issue of Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential election -- the subject of an ongoing investigation in the United States under Special Counsel Robert Mueller -- and Putin's support for Bashar Al-Assad in the Syrian civil war.
"We want to find out about Syria," Trump said when asked about what will be discussed during the meeting. "ll be asking the election, but I'll be asking about other things as well", including the allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
"He may deny it," Trump said. "I'll ask, but he may deny it. You'll be the first to know."