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Trump Defends NATO At London Summit, Spars With Macron Over Syria

Dec 4, 2019
Originally published on December 5, 2019 10:48 am
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The NATO summit in London was supposed to be a happy show of force marking the alliance's 70th anniversary. Instead, fault lines between President Trump and other world leaders were on display. Today, after the summit wrapped, I spoke with NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris and Tamara Keith in London. And I first asked Tamara Keith whether this NATO summit was particularly ill-tempered.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The NATO secretary general, Stoltenberg, was asked about this. And he said, oh, there will always be disputes. And the disputes will always get the attention. You know, his point being that he got out of this summit what he wanted out of it, which was an agreement to increase funding from a number of countries and also an affirmation of support for Article 5, which is the mutual defense agreement. All nations once again agreeing to that sort of key part of NATO.

But, you know, you also had President Trump having, you know, a back-and-forth with the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and also having this rather uncomfortable, lengthy press conference with French President Macron.

CORNISH: Right. We'll talk about Justin Trudeau in a minute. But, Eleanor, in the past, there's been a lot made of how European leaders have tried to handle President Trump one-on-one. This time, we saw a very different performance from Emmanuel Macron. What did he do, and how is it being received?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: He doesn't seem to be courting Trump anymore. That didn't get him anywhere. The U.S. dropped out of the Iran deal and the Paris Climate Accord. He's being very aggressive, and he's asserting France and Europe. And so he took Trump to task. He took him on. He pretty much dominated their exchange, which was in English.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Would you like some nice ISIS fighters? I could give them to you. You can take everyone you want.

PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: Let's be serious. The very large number of fighters you have on the ground are ISIS fighters coming from Syria, from Iraq and the region. It is true that you have current fighters coming from Europe, but this is a tiny minority of the overall problem we have in the region. And I think No. 1 priority, because it's not yet finished, is to get rid of ISIS and terrorist groups.

BEARDSLEY: Trump was alluding to the fact that Europeans have joined ISIS. He said, foreign fighters aren't the problem. The problem is we haven't even defeated ISIS yet because there's so much chaos on the ground there. And he was alluding, of course, to the fact that the U.S. pulled their troops out of northern Syria without informing anybody. So he was always ready to take Trump to task, so a complete reversal of the way it used to be where Trump would just wax on and everyone would smile politely.

KEITH: And Trump delivered some barbs to Macron before they met. But then when they were meeting face-to-face, he tried to be more conciliatory.

BEARDSLEY: Yeah, he did. He seemed very conciliatory. I had heard how he had criticized Macron, his comments on NATO, and I was ready for an explosion. He didn't say anything.

CORNISH: So that was all to his face. Behind his back, you had Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau being caught on a hot mic, so to speak, kind of joking and looking like he was mocking the U.S. president. Video of that went viral on Twitter. The president was asked about that today, right, Tam?

KEITH: That's right. It was Macron and Trudeau and Boris Johnson all yucking (ph) it up, talking about President Trump. Trump was asked about Trudeau, and this is what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Well, he's two-faced.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you think that Germany is too naive...

TRUMP: And honestly with Trudeau, he's a nice guy. I find him to be a very nice guy. But, you know, the truth is that I called him out on the fact that he's not paying 2%. And I guess he was not very happy about it.

KEITH: Now, the 2% President Trump is talking about is the NATO goal of having all nations in the alliance spend 2% of their own gross domestic product on their own defense budgets by 2024.

CORNISH: In the meantime, the press conference that the president had planned for today has been canceled. Why?

KEITH: Yeah, and the press corps took buses two hours each way to cover this press conference. You know, the reason given was President Trump simply said that he had answered so many questions over the previous day that he didn't feel like he needed to answer any more questions. But then a lot of news happened after that, including the House Intelligence Committee coming out with its report, the Judiciary Committee hearings beginning, and, of course, this hot mic video with the world leaders gossiping about President Trump.

CORNISH: This sounds very different from past meetings of the G-7 or NATO, where you had lots of European leaders trying to convince Trump of things and him kind of turning his back on them or speaking ill of them on the plane ride back. Is there a sense that they wanted to take a different approach?

BEARDSLEY: I think gone are the days when European leaders just stare at their shoes while Trump waxes on and on about issues. It seems now there's a new day. European leaders are going to start standing up and speaking their mind.

CORNISH: And finally, Tam, what was the word out of the White House about what this president feel he accomplished or his approach to NATO at this point in time?

KEITH: President Trump has been the same President Trump this whole time with regards to NATO. He wants other countries to contribute more. And he kept pounding on that at this summit, as he has at every summit. The difference, though, now is that instead of saying that NATO is obsolete. He's saying that he's fixing things. He's sort of spinning NATO now as a victory, as a promise kept, as, you know, making NATO great again, which is very different to have him both defending it, yet still complaining about the same things he was complaining about before.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tamara Keith speaking to us from London and NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

Thank you both.

BEARDSLEY: You're welcome, Audie.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.