Trump praises NATO chief for members’ increased defense spending

April 2, 2019 GMT

President Trump hosted NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House Tuesday and hailed “tremendous progress” on the president’s relentless push for members to pay more for the defense alliance.

“Tremendous progress has been made,” Mr. Trump told reporters in an Oval Office meeting with Mr. Stoltenberg. “When I came it wasn’t so good, and now they’re catching up.”

In 2016, only four of the 28 NATO countries were paying at least 2 percent of GDP on defense. NATO estimates that seven countries will meet that threshold this year the U.S., the United Kingdom, Poland, Greece, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The U.S. leads the alliance by spending 3.39 percent on defense. Mr. Trump has often called on members such as Germany, which spends 1.23 percent, to pay more of their fair share.

The president said Tuesday that the threshold of 2 percent of GDP on defense “may have to go up.”

He thanked Mr. Stoltenberg “for your strong commitment to NATO and especially your strong leadership on burden sharing.”

Mr. Trump said increased U.S.-European collaboration “shows the strength of the alliance.”

Senior State Department officials argued Tuesday that the relationship between the U.S. and NATO remains as strong as ever despite Mr. Trump’s harsh rhetoric toward the bloc and its members, and his continued pressure on European governments to spend more money on defense.

“NATO remains strong and unified. We have a very strong foundation of shared democratic officials,” an official told reporters on a conference call Tuesday ahead of the Trump-Stoltenberg meeting. “The U.S. commitment to NATO remains firm.”

This week’s meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Washington will center on Russia, officials said, and it’s expected the Trump administration will lead the charge for a new set of economic sanctions against Moscow. Officials referred to the set of sanctions as the “Black Sea package” an apparent reference to an incident last November in which Russian forces fired on and seized Ukrainian ships traveling through the Kerch Strait.

The Kerch Strait connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov.