AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s Europe provocations and the facts
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump shook things up every turn in his trip to Europe, making statements on NATO, Britain, Germany and more that were meant to provoke, and they did. Accuracy was not always a hallmark of these pronouncements.
A week in review:
TRUMP: “I didn’t criticize the prime minister.” — news conference Friday with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
THE FACTS: He criticized her.
In an interview with Britain’s Sun newspaper, he complained sharply about her approach to taking Britain out of the European Union and suggested she isn’t living up to the will of voters who called for that step in a 2016 referendum. May is proposing to maintain certain trade and economic ties that Trump thinks should be severed.
“I would have done it much differently,” he said in the interview. “I actually told Theresa May how to do it but she didn’t agree, she didn’t listen to me. She wanted to go a different route. I would actually say that she probably went the opposite way. And that is fine. She should negotiate the best way she knows how. But it is too bad what is going on. ... The deal she is striking is a much different deal than the one the people voted on.”
He went to so far as to say that if Britain remains partly integrated economically with the EU, “that would probably end a major trade relationship with the United States” and “kill” chances for a bilateral U.S.-U.K. trade deal.
Then he backtracked at the news conference, telling her “whatever you do is OK with me” and he anticipated completing a “great bilateral trade agreement with the United Kingdom. This is an incredible opportunity for our two countries and we will seize it fully.”
TRUMP, speaking Friday after a NATO summit marked by his scorching rhetoric and capped by a contentious emergency meeting: “There was a lot of love in that room.”
THE FACTS: It does not appear Trump’s NATO partners were feeling the love.
Despite attempts to tone down differences, Trump continues to leave doubts about the depth of his commitment to the alliance. “I was prepared to do things that would have been somewhat harsh yesterday,” Trump said Friday, touching on concerns by NATO partners that the U.S. commitment might be shaky. He also asserted that NATO “helps Europe more than it helps us.” This, after saying at the conclusion of the summit: “I believe in NATO.”
In Trump’s telling, unity was ultimately restored by a new commitment he wrung out of NATO partners to increase their military spending to relieve pressure on the U.S. budget. “A lot of people were surprised that NATO all came together at the end,” he said. But European leaders said they merely agreed to keep doing what they’ve been doing — raising military spending under a goal set in 2014 to devote 2 percent of their gross national product to defense by 2024.
TRUMP, in Sun interview: “I was cutting a ribbon for the opening of Turnberry — you know they totally did a whole renovation, it is beautiful — the day before the Brexit vote. I said, Brexit will happen. The vote is going to go positive, because people don’t want to be faced with the horrible immigration problems that they are being faced with in other countries.”
THE FACTS: He’s mixing up his predictions and his days. A month before, he did predict accurately that Britain would vote to leave the European Union. The day after the 2016 vote — not the day before — he predicted the EU would collapse because of Britain’s withdrawal. That remains to be seen. He predicted EU’s collapse while at a ribbon-cutting for his Scottish golf resort in Turnberry.
TRUMP, claiming progress from his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un Kim: “We’ll see where it all ends, but there have been no missile tests, there have been no research where there has been. They have blown up a site. I hear they’re blowing up another missile site.” — news conference Thursday in Brussels.
THE FACTS: North Korea has not said it blew up launch sites. Before the summit, it destroyed something else — its test site for underground nuclear blasts. Journalists witnessed the demolition of three tunnels and nearby buildings. The site may have already been compromised by the earlier, nuclear explosions and its destruction was one step among many that would be needed to achieve denuclearization.
If anything has been done to pull back on missile launch sites, it’s marginal at best. Officials have not verified reports that North Korea may have demolished a stand used for missile-ejection tests in May. Ejection tests are a limited step short of a full-blown launch.
TRUMP on NATO: “Everyone’s agreed to substantially up their commitment. They’re going to up it at levels they’ve never thought of before.” And, “I can tell you now that NATO now is really a fine-tuned machine. People are paying money that they’ve never paid before. They’re happy to do it. And the United States is being treated much more fairly.” — news conference Thursday in Brussels.
THE FACTS: There’s no outward sign that Trump’s aggressive posturing changed anything for the alliance other than bruise its veneer of unity.
NATO members had already agreed in 2014 to stop cutting their military budgets and set a goal of moving “toward” spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on their own defense by 2024.
On Wednesday, Trump roiled the summit by calling on NATO members to more than double their military budgets, suggesting a new benchmark that would have them devote 4 percent of their economy to defense. (NATO lists the U.S. as spending an estimated 3.5 percent of its GDP on its military budget this year.)
But by Thursday, leaders from France, Germany and Italy offered no support for Trump’s claim that he had wrung new concessions out of the alliance on their military spending. “I made clear that we know that we have to do more and that we have been doing so for quite a while,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “That turning point has long been initiated.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said allies had reaffirmed in their communique their intention to meet the goal of 2 percent by 2024 and no more.
TRUMP: “I told people that I’d be very unhappy if they didn’t up their commitments very substantially because the United States has been paying a tremendous amount, probably 90 percent of the costs of NATO.” — news conference in Brussels.
THE FACTS: Not true. The U.S. military budget compromises about 70 percent of the military spending of all NATO countries together, not 90 percent — and that’s for worldwide military commitments, not just Europe.
NATO has a largely administrative budget of about $3 billion for its headquarters and certain civilian and military costs. The U.S. share of that is capped at 22 percent. The United States may bear higher costs of certain military missions under the NATO banner.
TRUMP: “Frankly, many countries owe us a tremendous amount of money for many years back, where they’re delinquent, as far as I’m concerned, because the United States has had to pay for them. So if you go back 10 or 20 years, you’ll just add it all up. It’s massive amounts of money is owed.” — remarks Wednesday at meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
TRUMP: “Many countries in NATO, which we are expected to defend, are not only short of their current commitment of 2% (which is low), but are also delinquent for many years in payments that have not been made. Will they reimburse the U.S.?” — tweet Tuesday.
THE FACTS: There is no such debt to the U.S. or to NATO. Therefore, no delinquency or question of payment.
He is referring to how much each NATO country spends on its own defense and pressing them to spend more. Doing so would relieve some pressure on U.S. military spending. But there are no IOUs to collect from past years.
In 2014, before Trump was president, NATO members agreed to stop cutting their military budgets and set a goal of moving “toward” spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on their own defense — by 2024. It was not a “commitment,” not a direct contribution to NATO, not a payment owed to the U.S., and not something that alliance members pledged to achieve immediately.
Trump is right that most NATO members are spending less than 2 percent of their GDP on their defense budget, though more are moving in that direction.
Trump has assailed NATO members such as Germany for lagging on their military budgets while he has simultaneously taken credit for progress on that front. He has repeatedly claimed that because of his pressure, “billions and billions of dollars are pouring in,” which is also not true, because there is no such fund for money to pour into.
TRUMP: “Germany is a captive of Russia because they supply (energy). They got rid of their coal plants. They got rid of their nuclear. They’re getting so much of the oil and gas from Russia. I think it’s something that NATO has to look at.” — remarks Wednesday.
THE FACTS: He’s wrong about coal-fired and nuclear energy and overstated Germany’s reliance on Russian natural gas. In 2017, Germany got more than one-third of its energy for electricity from coal and nearly 12 percent from nuclear plants. One-third came from renewable energy. Only 13 percent came from natural gas, with Russia as the major supplier.
Trump was objecting to Germany’s acceptance of a new pipeline project that will bring more natural gas from Russia.
Germany plans to retire nuclear plants by 2022 and intends to reduce its reliance on coal. But Germany has not “got rid” of either.
TRUMP: “One of the states we won, Wisconsin __ I didn’t even realize this until fairly recently — that was the one state that Ronald Reagan didn’t win when he ran the board his second time. He didn’t win Wisconsin, and we won Wisconsin.” — news conference Thursday in Brussels.
THE FACTS: Trump has said this before; it’s not true. Reagan won Wisconsin in the 1980 and 1984 presidential elections.
Associated Press writers Lorne Cook in Brussels and David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.
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