, London, United Kingdom, Jul 15 – Here are five highlights from US President Donald Trump’s trip to Europe, as he prepares to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday:
– Sticking it to the Germans –
Trump started his trip Wednesday by blasting Germany for falling well short of its NATO spending commitments, while preparing to increase its reliance on Russian gas imports.
He tore into Berlin for paying billions of dollars to Russia while the United States spends billions on defending Germany.
“Germany is a captive of Russia because it is getting so much of its energy from Russia,” he said, taking aim at the proposed Nord Stream II gas pipeline.
After meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump changed his tune and claimed he had very good relations with her.
But on Thursday he was tweeting that Germany’s stance was “Not acceptable!”
And on Friday, he described the pipeline as a “horrible mistake” that would give Russia power over Germany.
– NATO spending spat –
At the NATO summit in Brussels, Trump slammed allies for failing to meet their defence spending commitments, demanding that they meet their two percent of GDP pledge “immediately” instead of by 2024 as previously agreed.
Apart from the United States, only three of the 29 NATO countries hit the two-percent target in 2017: Britain, Greece and Estonia.
He then stunned allies by telling them to eventually double the figure to four percent.
Trump claimed NATO leaders agreed to a big boost in defence spending.
But French President Emmanuel Macron disputed Trump’s claims, saying that the joint statement the leaders had signed went no further than what had previously been agreed — reaching two percent by 2024 — apart from setting out how some countries plan to get there.
“We have left NATO with more money, more unity, more spirit than NATO probably has ever had,” he claimed Friday.
– Brexit bust-up –
Arriving in Britain on Thursday for his first visit as president, Trump kicked things off with a tabloid newspaper interview in which he said British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit proposals would probably kill off the chances of a trade deal with the United States.
Trump told The Sun that May had ignored his suggestions on how to handle the departure negotiations with the European Union.
But the president said Friday suggested that a trade deal was possible.
“Whatever you do is OK with us, just make sure we can trade together: that’s all that matters. The United States looks forward to finalising a great bilateral trade agreement,” he said.
– Tackling Theresa May –
In Trump’s Sun interview, he said Boris Johnson, who quit as Britain’s foreign minister over May’s Brexit proposals, would make a “great prime minister”.
Many in Britain interpreted that as undermining May before they had even met, combined with his Brexit intervention.
But he lavished praise on her after their meeting at the premier’s Chequers country residence.
“She’s a tough negotiator… She’s a very, very smart and determined person… she left a lot of people in her wake,” he said.
“I would much rather have her as my friend than my enemy.”
– Face-off with Putin –
Trump ends his visit by meeting Putin in the Finnish capital. Before leaving Washington, he said tackling Putin might surprisingly be the easiest part of the trip.
He said Friday he had been “extremely tough on Russia… far tougher on Russia than anybody”.
Referring to an ongoing investigation into ties between his election campaign and Russia, he decried a “rigged witch-hunt” that was hurting the United States and its relationship with Moscow.
Trump said he was “not going in with high expectations” but wanted to develop a personal relationship with Putin, which he hoped would yield some “very surprising things”.