Trump Confronts NATO. Then Pompeo Praises It

(Bloomberg) -- First, President Donald Trump held an awkward, confrontational breakfast in Brussels with the head of NATO about insufficient defense spending by alliance members and frustration over German support for a Russian gas pipeline.

A few hours later on Wednesday, his secretary of state tweeted effusive praise of the organization.

“.@NATO is the most successful alliance in history,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote on Twitter. “All #NATOallies have committed to extending this success through increased defense spending, deterrence and defense, and fighting terrorism. Weakness provokes; strength and cohesion protects. This remains our bedrock belief.”

That upbeat assessment contrasted with Trump’s statement at the breakfast that “many countries owe us. The United States is paying far too much and other countries are not paying enough.”

Trump has leveled much of his criticism at the failure of more North Atlantic Treaty Organization members to spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. At a meeting in 2014, NATO members agreed to reach that threshold by the middle of the next decade, but the American president has long expressed frustration at that pace.

Pompeo has been consistent in saying that differences between allies won’t distract from core areas of agreement. The top U.S. diplomat, who once served as a tank commander in Europe patrolling the Warsaw Pact frontier, sat stoically as Trump lectured NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg over breakfast.

Trump didn’t blame Stoltenberg for the state of affairs, however. The secretary general has “worked very hard on this problem,” Trump said.

Besides, Trump said, “I think the secretary general likes Trump. He may be the only one, but that’s OK with me.”

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