NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg praised President Donald Trump on Thursday for pushing countries in the alliance to boost their defense spending, an issue that has driven a wedge between Trump and Europe before.
“Let me thank you for the leadership you show on the issue of defense spending because it is very important that we all contribute more to our shared security, and it is really having an impact because, as you said, allies are now spending more on defense,” Stoltenberg said while taking reporters’ questions after the leaders met at the White House. “All allies are increasing their defense budgets.”
“Do you give me credit for that?” Trump pressed.
“You have helped to do that,” Stoltenberg said.
It was a notable moment for a U.S.-NATO relationship that has sometimes seemed on shaky ground during the Trump administration.
A minority of NATO’s members — including the .S. — meet the alliance’s nonbinding guideline for each country to spend at least 2 percent of its GDP on defense.
Other American presidents have pressed their NATO allies to increase military budgets. But the issue has become a particular flashpoint for Trump, who is often skeptical of international alliances or deals that he deems unfair to the U.S.
“Together we’ve increased and really raised a lot of money from countries that weren’t paying, or weren’t paying a fair share,” Trump said on Thursday. “We have a little ways to go, but many billions of dollars of additional money has been raised.”
Stoltenberg later told the president: “Your leadership on defense spending has really helped to make a difference.”
Trump noted that he thought the alliance should increase the standard to 4 percent.
Last year, Trump reversed his previous dismissals of the alliance and said he no longer considered NATO “obsolete.” But he’s continued to raise concerns about spending — including to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany last month.
Trump again singled out Germany on Thursday, calling it “a very big beneficiary” that “must demonstrate leadership.”
And though Trump said the alliance needed to improve its counterterrorism capabilities, he repeated that the U.S. was committed to NATO’s Article 5.
Early in his administration, Trump scared European allies by deciding on the fly to scrap a public affirmation of Article 5, the longstanding lynchpin of the alliance that guarantees the countries’ commitment to mutual defense. But by June 2017, he committed to the article.
Though the president’s decision last week to abandon the Iran nuclear deal angered European allies, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who took office last month, has made a more positive impression on NATO so far.
The leaders’ meeting came ahead of a NATO summit in July.