Trump Speaks To Reporters In Brussels

Jul 12, 2018
Originally published on July 12, 2018 9:13 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

From NPR News, this is Special Coverage this morning. President Trump has begun an unscheduled news conference in Brussels at the NATO summit. And we're going to turn to the president now.

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GREENE: If you're just joining us, we are listening to audio from Brussels, where President Trump is giving an unscheduled press conference as he wraps up meetings at the NATO summit. Let's hear more now from President Trump in Brussels.

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GREENE: If you're just joining us, we are listening to President Trump, who is at the NATO summit in Brussels. This is a news conference - an unscheduled news conference. And we will continuing - we'll continue now listening in on this news conference with President Trump in Brussels.

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GREENE: All right. We've been listening to Special Coverage of President Trump's news conference in Brussels as the NATO summit is wrapping up. This is an unscheduled news conference. The president decided to come out and speak to reporters.

Among other things, he said that the United States commitment to NATO remains very strong. He also was taking a lot of credit for what he says is an increase in military spending from NATO countries, something he has been calling for for some time now, and suggesting that the alliance has grown stronger in the last few days because of his pleas to these countries.

Let's turn now to NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, who is with us. Hi there, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there, David.

GREENE: All right. Let's start with one of the big messages here. It is not insignificant that the president is standing here in Brussels and saying that the U.S. commitment to NATO is strong because, I mean, I think it was just not even a day ago that he was questioning what use NATO had. So what are we hearing here? How big is this?

LIASSON: Well, my head is spinning.

GREENE: Mine, too.

LIASSON: And what I want to know from people over there is what happened over the - overnight.

GREENE: Yeah.

LIASSON: He went from a NATO-basher to a NATO-booster. I mean, his rhetoric has completely changed on this. He said that NATO is strong. His commitment to NATO is strong.

It sounds like, for the first time, President Trump took, yes, for an answer. What he said - he said he never - he had never admitted that he threatened to pull out of NATO. He said, I just told them I'd be very angry if they didn't increase their commitments. And until we find the details, it sounds like what he's saying that he got from them is what he already had. In other words...

GREENE: Which was this 2 percent.

LIASSON: ...He said they're going to be getting to 2 percent in a very short period of time. They'd already agreed to get to 2 percent by 2024 before he was elected president. And he didn't say anything today that suggests he got anything different from that. He said, 2 percent used to be just a vague goal, now it's a commitment.

He now - for the - many people had advised him to declare success when he got to Europe. In other words, to say that NATO is doing what he's asking them to do. And it sounds like he was doing that. He said, NATO...

GREENE: It sounds like he's taking some of that advice right now.

LIASSON: ...Is more put-together now. Yes. It's more together and coordinated than ever before. And, of course, he took credit for it...

GREENE: Right.

LIASSON: ...Which is fine. But so this is a real reversal. And he went from threatening to tear apart the Western alliance - he said NATO was obsolete. He said, we are the schmucks that pay for the EU. I mean, the language was very, very harsh. He denigrated Germany for doing business with Russia.

GREENE: But then says he loves Germany...

LIASSON: But now he says he loves Germany.

GREENE: ...And has a great relationship with Angela Merkel, which is - so what has changed beyond his message?

LIASSON: So this was a well - well, this...

GREENE: I mean, that's the big question we're going to have to answer.

LIASSON: Well, that's the biggest thing that changed because a president's message is important. And if he was around there, you know, using rhetoric that was suggesting that the United States' commitment to NATO was not ironclad, that's something that Vladimir Putin has been wishing and hoping for. This would be beyond Putin's wildest dreams. This was the most well-behaved President Trump I have ever seen.

GREENE: In this news conference.

LIASSON: In this news conference.

GREENE: But I have to ask you, now that you brought up Putin, I'm really curious because while we're talking about kind of the overarching message, I heard a couple things that really struck my ears, and one was, when you go to Russia and sit down with Vladimir Putin, would you consider talking about stopping taking part in military exercises in the Baltics?

And just to give people context, I mean, the Baltics are NATO countries right on the doorstep of Russia. And those military exercises are really important to those countries. So this is something that would very much be on the mind of NATO as he moves on to Helsinki and that big meeting with Putin.

LIASSON: That's right. There's still lots of questions. He didn't - even though he gave the kind of commitment to NATO that he never has, and I'm sure all of those NATO diplomats and world leaders are heaving a huge sigh of relief at that, he left all the questions open about what he would do or give to Vladimir Putin. He said, what will happen, I don't know. Although he downplayed the meeting by saying it's just a loose meeting - no big schedule. Could lead to something productive.

He was asked about whether he would recognize Crimea - something he suggested he might do. This would be extraordinary if he did that because it would be validating the violation of a sovereign border in Europe for the first time since World War II. He's blamed it, as he has in the past, all on President Obama. But he just said, we'll see what happens, I don't know.

GREENE: Mara Liasson, I want to turn briefly to NPR's Frank Langfitt, who is in London and has also been listening in to this news conference. And, Frank, I just want to ask you, does the president deserve as much credit as he is taking here? Should he be declaring victory for some sort of successful NATO summit?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: The money was rising back before he became president because the concerns about Russia and Crimea, just as Mara mentioned. So, no, this was already happening. I think what's fascinating to me, David, is he came in yesterday and created a real sense of crisis. He frightened people in Europe. And then today, he declares victory. Now from a political theater perspective, that's really clever. And I think that he has everyone talking about it. So in that sense, he's had a kind of a big win today.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Frank Langfitt in London and NPR's Mara Liasson joining us from Washington. Thank you both. We really appreciate it.

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GREENE: Again, we've been listening to President Trump deliver an unscheduled news conference in Brussels after a NATO summit, declaring victory in a way, saying that NATO is stronger and taking credit for that. We're going to have to hear from European leaders on that subject as the hours go forward. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.