Washington, DC – US President Donald J. Trump called for NATO member nations to step up and pay their “fair share” of defense spending in the fight against global terrorism. Speaking in Brussels at the unveiling of the NATO 9/11 Memorial during his first overseas trip since taking office in January, Trump said, “We remember and mourn those nearly 3,000 innocent people who were brutally murdered by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001,” adding, “Our NATO allies responded swiftly and decisively, invoking for the first time in its history the Article 5 collective defense commitments.”
He said the May 22 attack on Manchester, England, demonstrates “the depths of the evil we face with terrorism,” and called it a “barbaric and vicious attack upon our civilization.” Terrorism must be stopped in its tracks, or the horror of Manchester and many other places will continue, he said.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the Manchester attack that killed at least 22 people and injured approximately 120 others, according to published reports.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer along with a second official who was speaking on background as a senior administration official addressed the traveling journalists in a hold room at NATO.
Highlighting the speech strategy, the Senior administration official said, “The speech had a few purposes. One was to honor the victims of the Manchester attack and then to dedicate the 9/11 memorial and finally to address burden sharing. That was the goal of the speech.”
Commenting on the reaction of the early discussion at the NATO dinner, Spicer said. “Right off the bat, there was unanimous support for a resolution to commit to burden sharing and combating terrorism, which are two things the president talked about during his campaign and now as president. To see unanimous support for the two main priorities of the president, and the secretary general was praiseworthy of the president’s effort, was a great way to start it off.”
Spicer said the NATO countries agreed to commit 2 percent of their GDP to defense. Secretary General Stoltenberg gave a presentation at the dinner using “a big chart” to show how burden sharing was negative and has become more positive.
“It was a very positive reaction and affirmation of the president’s priorities today,” said Spicer.
Article 5 Controversy
Replying to a question on why President Trump did not explicitly support Article 5 in his remarks, Spicer said, “At the beginning he talked about it being invoked right after 9/11, but second of all the entire ceremony was called an Article 5 dedication.”
Explaining it away, Spicer said, “I think it’s a bit silly because by being here at such a ceremony, we all understand that by being part of NATO we treat the obligations and commitments…by having to reaffirm something by the very nature of being here and speaking at a ceremony about it is almost laughable.”
Pressed further on why Trump didn’t mention Article 5 specifically, Spicer said, “We’re not playing cutsie with this. He’s fully committed.” adding, “If you are standing at a ceremony talking about the invocation of Article 5 after 9/11 and talking about that, that is a pretty clear indication of the support that exists for it. I’ve seen some of the questions I’ve gotten from you guys, but there’s 100 percent commitment to Article 5. I am somewhat perplexed when you’re at a ceremony that is centered around Article 5 people [that] could expect to hear certain words.”
On the reports of the British intelligence sharing concerns, Spicer said, “The president has made it very clear going back months that leaks threaten national security and that he is outraged at these allegations and he wants to get to the bottom of it.”
Asked to comment whether Trump had discussed it, with British Prime Minister May, Spicer couldn’t saying, “She’s sitting next to him at the dinner. I don’t know…”
“The president was outraged by this, that someone in a government agency would potentially leak classified information that would undermine an ongoing investigation and further compromise national security,” noted Spicer.
Brushing Aside of Montenegro PM
Asked to explain the video showing President Trump appearing to brush aside Montenegro’s prime minister, Spicer said, “I have not seen the video.” He also explained that the standing order at the family photo was predetermined, as per usual.
Relationship with EU but No Mention of Russia
Spicer was asked whether Tusk raised concerns about the gap between US and Europe over Russia, and Michael Anton chimed in that he had spoken with officials who attended the expanded EU bilateral meeting and Russia did not come up.
But Spicer stressed that the bond with the European Union was growing saying, “The relationships continue to grow stronger and stronger. Today was another great day in terms of the relationships that have been made and continue to be built, adding, “I don’t think anything surprised him today.”
Specifically on Trump’s reaction to meeting newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron, who succeeded François Hollande on May 14, 2017, Spicer said, “When they were walking out, they seemed to have real, great chemistry, when he was sending him off. From everything I heard, it seemed to go very well.”
On NATO takeaways
“What’s being overlooked is actually the results the president’s getting. They are talking tonight… they’re all talking about burden sharing. The entire discussion is focused on the priorities that the president laid out,” Spicer said.
“What you’re seeing tonight is actually quite powerful, all of these countries committing to further meeting their obligation financially,” noted Spicer.
Echoing those sentiments, the Senior administration official said, “The more NATO countries spend, the worse it is for Russia … As Trump’s pushing NATO to spend more and more and more, that’s obviously making life more difficult for Russia and that’s creating a stronger and more vibrant Europe.” The senior official continued, “What Trump’s doing really is increasing NATO’s ability to deter any kind of aggression on its borders, including from Russia.”