LONDON – U.S. President Donald Trump accused Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of being “two-faced” after Trudeau and other NATO leaders appeared to have been gossiping about him.
A recording of a reception Tuesday night in London’s Buckingham Palace shows Trudeau huddling with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Britain’s Princess Anne, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rute and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Trudeau was overheard apparently commenting on Trump’s lengthy impromptu exchange with journalists, during which Trump said Trudeau was perturbed over his remarks that Canada is not fulfilling its NATO financial commitments.
Shortly after Trump’s comments about Trudeau, he tweeted NATO has made “Great progress” since he won the presidency nearly three years ago.
Earlier Wednesday, NATO leaders gathered at a golf resort outside of London to present a united front amid bitter differences over terrorism, Turkey and increased burden sharing with the United States.
The 29 leaders, including Trump, posed for a traditional “family” photograph before retreating for the planned three-hour meeting. The leaders released a statement afterwards promising to focus more attention on the challenges posed by Russia and rising superpower China.
“Our solemn commitment as enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty that an attack against one Ally shall be considered an attack against us all,” the statement said.
On the sidelines of the meeting Wednesday, Trump held bilateral talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The White House said “the two Presidents discussed the importance of Turkey fulfilling its alliance commitments, further strengthening commerce through boosting bilateral trade by $100 billion, regional security challenges, and energy security.”
Trump, Macron tensions
A day earlier, leaders had gathered for informal meetings to mark the 70th anniversary of the alliance’s founding, but the day was overshadowed when tensions between Trump and Macron broke out in full public display.
In an almost 40-minute session with journalists, the two leaders clashed on a number of issues including burden sharing within NATO, terrorism, Turkey’s invasion in northern Syria, and the U.S. withdrawal from an arms treaty with Russia.
The two leaders met hours after Trump criticized Macron for his recent statement describing NATO as experiencing a “brain death,” due to diminished U.S. leadership. Trump called it a “nasty statement.”
As the two sat down for talks, Trump warned that NATO member countries who do not meet NATO’s guideline of spending 2% of GDP on collective defense could be dealt with “from a trade standpoint” referring to tariffs on products, including French wine.
This prompted Macron, who is currently contributing 1.9% of France’s GDB towards NATO’s defense, to push back.
“It’s not just about money,” Macron said. “What about peace in Europe?” he asked Trump.
“It’s impossible just to say we have to put money, we have to put soldiers, without being clear on the fundamentals of what NATO should be,” Macron said.
Islamic State fighters
Trump and Macron argued about how to deal with Islamic State after the October withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, a move Trump made without consulting the alliance. The withdrawal paved the way for Turkey to launch an offensive against the U.S.-allied Kurdish militia in northern Syria and triggered fear among allies of a potential IS resurgence.
In response to a question on whether France should do more to take Islamic State fighters captured in the Middle East, Trump asked Macron if he would like “some nice ISIS fighters.”
Macron countered that the main problem is IS fighters in the region. Referring to the abrupt U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria, Macron said “you have more and more of these fighters due to the situation today.”
Macron is “more on the side of those who want to actually face up to the crisis and talk about it,” said Hans Kundnani of Chatham House. He is the sort of “disruptive factor” compared to other leaders who may choose to paper over disagreements, Kundnani said.
The summit came as Trump faces an impeachment investigation back home. He repeated his criticism Tuesday of Democrats who control the House of Representatives, saying it is unfair to hold hearings while he is attending the summit.
Trump is not the first U.S. president to attend a NATO summit under the cloud of impeachment. In 1974, Richard Nixon went to NATO’s 25th anniversary meeting in Brussels while the U.S. House of Representatives was concluding its impeachment inquiry. Nixon stepped down a few weeks later.