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Head Of EU Council Issues A Warning As President Trump Criticizes NATO


President Trump is on a week-long trip to Europe. He flew to Brussels today to attend a NATO summit, then a quick trip to London and finally Helsinki for a much anticipated summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump said today the Putin meeting might actually be the easiest of all as he presses European allies on defense spending and trade. NPR's White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe is in Brussels now where she joins us. Hi, Ayesha.


CHANG: So what is the White House hoping to accomplish at the NATO summit?

RASCOE: President Trump's top priority is getting NATO countries to spend more on their defense. He's already been tweeting and talking about this. NATO members have set a goal of moving towards 2 percent - spending 2 percent of their GDP by 2024. A lot of the countries have not met this goal yet, and some countries have not put together a plan to do so. And President Trump says that's not fair. EU Council President Donald Tusk issued a bit of a warning to Trump today about being so critical about NATO.


DONALD TUSK: Yeah. America, appreciate your life. After all, you don't have that many.

CHANG: Whoa. What does President Trump say about that?

RASCOE: Well, President Trump - he is not backing down. He says that the U.S. has a lot of allies, but unfortunately, he says, they've been taking advantage of the U.S. And he repeated this idea that NATO has been more helpful to Europe than it has been to the U.S.

CHANG: So how is this debate over defense spending going to impact the NATO summit overall, you think?

RASCOE: NATO members say they want to show strength and unity at this meeting. There is agreement that they do want to spend more on the military, but it's going to be hard to kind of escape these divisions with the U.S. For President Trump, trade and national security are linked. And he feels like the U.S. is being taken advantage of when it comes to NATO, and they're also being taken advantage of when it comes to trade. And so that is very concerning to these allies. And they don't want another blow up like what happened at the G-7 last month when Trump blasted the rest of that group. And the reason why NATO members want to show a united front is because they want to deter countries like Russia from engaging in aggressive behavior. And that's what the military buildup is really all about. So if Europe does begin to spend more on the military as Trump wants, that's all aimed at reining in Russia.

CHANG: Speaking of Russia - I mean, our NATO allies expressing any concern about Trump's upcoming meeting with Putin?

RASCOE: I think Trump's comment that (laughter) his meeting with Putin might be the easiest part of his trip is part of what is raising alarm with allies.

CHANG: Yeah.

RASCOE: It might've been a joke, but they don't want Trump seeming cozy with Putin and then hostile towards NATO. And there's concern that goes beyond optics with this. President Trump is supposed to meet one-on-one with Putin before they have this larger meeting with the rest of their advisers. And this is kind of like what he did with Kim Jong Un when they met in Singapore.

CHANG: Right.

RASCOE: And President Trump made some concessions to Kim without consulting with South Korea. And so there's a concern that the same sort of thing could happen with this meeting with Putin where he could make a deal without consulting with the rest of the NATO allies.

CHANG: All right. That's NPR's Ayesha Rascoe in Brussels where President Trump will attend the NATO summit. Thank you very much, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.