In new NATO spat, Trump calls Canada’s Trudeau ‘two-faced’
President Trump began his second day at the NATO summit by again taking a shot at another leader in the alliance, this time Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trump reacted angrily Wednesday to a video that appeared to show Trudeau mocking him with other allies. “Well, he’s two-faced,” Trump complained to reporters. “He’s a nice guy. I find him to be a nice guy. But the truth is, I called him out on the fact that’s he’s not paying 2%, and I guess he’s not very happy about it.”
Trump was referring to his demand that NATO members honor a goal to spend 2% of their gross domestic product on defense.
Trump’s comments came after a group of NATO leaders appeared to have been caught in an unguarded exchange on camera apparently gossiping about the president’s behavior.
In images recorded during a reception in London at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday evening, Trudeau was seen standing in a huddle with French President Emmanuel Macron — with whom Trump bickered on Tuesday — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Britain’s Princess Anne, daughter of Queen Elizabeth II.
Johnson asked Macron, “Is that why you were late?” Then Trudeau could be heard saying, “He was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top.” Trudeau confirmed Wednesday that was a reference to Trump’s long and unscheduled question-and-answer session with journalists earlier Tuesday. The president bantered with reporters for more than two hours, sitting casually in a salon of Winfield House, the manicured estate of the U.S. ambassador to Britain.
Trudeau also said: “You just watched his team’s jaws drop to the floor.” He explained that was in reference to Trump’s decision to hold the next Group of Seven meeting at Camp David, the presidential retreat.
Images of the palace reception were recorded by a pool camera. The clip, posted online by Canadian broadcaster CBC, has been viewed more than 5 million times.
Trudeau had a quiet word and a handshake with Trump as he arrived at the summit Wednesday and later tried to shrug off the episode.
“As you all know, we have a very good and constructive relationship between me and the president,” Trudeau told reporters at a news conference.
Asked if the incident had given him pause for thought, Trudeau said that ensuring the focus of attention remained on matters of substance “is something that we’re all going to try to do a little harder.”
Johnson, meanwhile, professed ignorance when asked by reporters about the conversation.
“That’s complete nonsense,” he said, adding: “I really don’t know what is being referred to there.”
Leaders of the 29 NATO states are marking the 70th anniversary of the military alliance — and trying to patch up differences over defense spending, the alliance’s strategic direction and member nation Turkey’s military action in northern Syria.
Trump also sat down with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday as European leaders, led by Macron, are pushing the alliance to get tougher on Turkey after its October invasion of Syria and its purchase of Russian surface-to-air missiles.
Trump has resisted some of those efforts to pressure Erdogan — a point of tension exposed during outspoken exchanges with the French leader on Tuesday. The White House, which confirmed the meeting after Erdogan’s office posted a photo of the two leaders on social media, said the pair discussed “the importance of Turkey fulfilling its alliance commitments” as well as security and economic issues.
Trump also planned meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on the sidelines of the NATO leaders’ meeting.
The gathering of NATO leaders follows Trump’s frequent criticism of alliance members as falling well short in doing their financial part through the first three years of his presidency.
After a NATO summit last year, he called for members to devote at least 4% of gross domestic product to military spending and took aim at Merkel, whom he accused of paying Russia “billions of dollars for gas and energy” while failing to meet her nation’s commitment to spend at least 2% of GDP on defense.
But at this NATO meeting, Trump — heading toward an election year looking to showcase foreign policy wins — is offering a more optimistic outlook for the alliance’s future. To that end, he suggested he deserved much of the credit for progress.
White House officials say that before Trump took office, just four NATO members had reached the 2% benchmark set in 2014. Now there are nine, and 18 of the 29 are projected to meet the benchmark by 2024. Trump is set to have a working lunch Wednesday with what the White House called the “NATO 2%ers.”
The first day of meetings was dominated by the fissures in the Trump-Macron relationship. Before they met on the sidelines of the summit, Trump laced into the French president for what he called “very, very nasty” comments to the Economist about NATO’s health under Trump’s leadership of its most important member.
Macron didn’t back down when they appeared later in the day, and he renewed his own criticism of Trump for withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria.
That decision by Trump, made without consulting France or other NATO allies, gave Turkey an opening to launch operations against the Syrian Kurds.
Ahead of the meeting, Erdogan said he would oppose a NATO plan to defend the Baltic region if the alliance does not back Turkey in its fight against Kurdish groups it considers terrorists.
“I’m sorry to say we don’t have the same definition of terrorism around the table,” Macron said in a swipe at Turkey.
Trump showed more deference to Erdogan, saying that Turkey was “very helpful” during the October U.S. commando raid that led to the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Baghdadi near the Syria-Turkey border.
“We flew over areas that were totally controlled by Turkey and Turkish military,” Trump said. “We didn’t tell them what we were doing or where we were going. Turkey could not have been nicer, could not have been more supportive.”
At another point in their extended comments before the news media, Trump and Macron had a curt exchange about the repatriation of Islamic State fighters who are European citizens and were captured in Syria and Iraq in recent years. Trump has pressed unsuccessfully for European nations to accept fighters captured by U.S. forces.
“Would you like some nice ISIS fighters? I can give them to you,” Trump said, using an acronym for Islamic State. “You can take every one you want.”
“Let’s be serious,” Macron responded. “Your No. 1 problem are not the foreign fighters.”
Trump retorted, “‘That’s one of the greatest non-answers I’ve ever heard. And, that’s OK.”
After such exchanges, however, Trump gave Macron, along with Italy’s prime minister, a ride in his armored limo from a reception at Buckingham Palace to a gathering hosted by Johnson at No. 10 Downing St., his official residence.
Times staff writer Noah Bierman in Watford and the Associated Press contributed to his report.
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