Wednesday

16th Jan 2019

Trump expected to make Nato pledge

  • Trump's nine-day tour started in Middle East (Photo: whitehouse.gov)

Nato mutual defence and the fight against jihadist group Islamic State (IS) are expected to take centre stage as US leader Donald Trump meets Nato and EU allies in Brussels on Thursday (25 May).

Trump, who is on his maiden voyage to Europe, mentioned the fight against IS after landing in the Belgian and EU capital on Wednesday evening.

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  • Earlier meeting with Merkel in US looked prickly (Photo: bundeskanzlerin.de)

”We are fighting very hard, doing very well under our generals, making tremendous progress,” he said after meeting Belgian prime minister Charles Michel.

“But when you see something like what happened a few days ago, you realise how important it is to win this fight. And we will win this fight,” he said, referring to the IS attack in Manchester on Monday.

He also tweeted “Thank you for a warm welcome” after he and his first lady met the Belgian king and queen.

The US president will meet EU leaders and the French president on Thursday morning before attending the Nato summit.

He will unveil a memorial to the victims of 9/11 outside Nato’s new HQ and give a brief speech in which he is expected to make a public commitment to Nato mutual defence for the first time since entering the White House.

The 9/11 crisis saw Nato invoke Article 5 on joint defence in order to help America.

The Nato meeting is to discuss defence spending and Nato’s role in the fight against IS.

German chancellor Angela Merkel will also unveil a memorial to the fall of the Berlin Wall to highlight Nato's role in the Cold War, but the summit is expected to make little mention of Russia.

Trump’s earlier EU meeting with EU Council head Donald Tusk and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker will touch on trade and climate change.

Core message

Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, said en route from Rome to Brussels on Wednesday that Trump would urge Nato members to spend at least 2 percent of their GDPs on defence.

"That's going to be the core of his message”, Tillerson said.

“You can expect the president to be very tough on them and say … 'We’re 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’.”

Tillerson said the US wanted Nato to join its 68-nation coalition against IS in Iraq and Syria, saying it “would be a really important step for them [Nato] to take”.

Nato head Jens Stoltenberg endorsed the move on Wednesday.

“Many allies would like to see Nato as a full member of the coalition”, he said.

“It sends a strong and clear message of unity in the fight against terrorism and especially in light of the terrorist attacks in Manchester”, he added.

If allies agree for Nato to join the anti-IS force, its role would likely be limited to surveillance and would not have a combat element.

A spokesman for French president Emmanuel Macron told press on Wednesday that Nato would not become a “strike force” in the Middle East.

"The president [Macron] will say that he's attentive to this [Trump's call], but to make clear that it's not about transforming Nato into the sole strike force against Islamic State," Macron's spokesman, Christophe Castaner, said.

Substantial debate on Russia is to be left to a meeting in Italy on Friday of the G7 leading nations, EU and Nato officials said.

Trust

The Nato dinner is to last two to three hours, with equal speaking time for each of the 29 heads and for Stoltenberg, leaving little room for in-depth discussion.

Trump’s talks with Tusk and Juncker are to last one hour.

The events are part of a nine-day tour by Trump which started in the Middle East and included an audience with Pope Francis in the Vatican on Wednesday.

The main Nato leaders are not expected to hold press briefings after the summit before they leave for the G7 event on the Italian island of Sicily.

Thursday's talks were seen as important despite their brevity for the sake of rebuilding ties.

“The fact that the [EU] meeting is taking place, we can already see as a success”, an EU official said. The official said the “first person contacts” would “contribute to building trust”.

Trump astonished Europe after entering office in February by saying Nato was “obsolete” and that the UK was right to leave the EU, which he attacked as being a vehicle for German domination.

He also called Brussels a “hellhole” after the IS attack in the city last March and he is still mired in controversy over allegations of shady ties to Russia.

New atmosphere

The EU official noted that Trump had changed his rhetoric and that the political atmosphere in the EU had improved after anti-EU parties lost in Dutch and French elections.

“At that time, Brexit had made a strong impression on Trump, [he was] asking how things would develop, but after the elections in the Netherlands and France we are in a completely different place”, the official said.

He said there had been a “convergence of views” between the Trump administration and Europe on issues such as Syria and Russia “in recent months”.

Trump is not expected to back the Paris Agreement on climate change in his EU meeting on Thursday, but the EU official said: “The fact that we’re now in a situation where we can talk about business … and not existential questions shows the progress we’ve made”.

A few thousand people protested against Trump in Brussels amid a police presence on Wednesday.

The arrival of another controversial Nato leader, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the city the same evening was greeted by hundreds of supporters outside his hotel, the Steigenberger Wiltcher’s.

The pro-Erdogan rally took place despite a ban by local police, Belgian media said.

Trump delays climate decision

The White House said it would take more time to decide if the US should remain part of the Paris climate agreement, while talks are underway in Bonn.

Wannabe US envoy calls EU a 'failure'

Malloch, who wants to be Trump's envoy to Brussels, said EU should become a trade bloc of strong nation states to win US support.

Interview

Let's not lecture Trump, says top German MP

Europeans need to propose "projects of common interest" to the US president to preserve "Western unity" on Russia, Norbert Roettgen, the chair of Bundestag's foreign affairs committee said.

Nato to join Trump's anti-IS coalition

Nato will join a US-led coalition against Islamic State and will continue to deter "Russian aggression" its secretary general has said.

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