Trump Begins NATO Summit by Targeting Macron’s ‘Brain Death’ Comment

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a meeting with President Donald Trump at Winfield House in London on Tuyeday, Dec. 3, 2019. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

Katie Rogers and Annie Karni

c.2019 The New York Times Company

 

LONDON — President Donald Trump began a two-day summit Tuesday to mark the 70th anniversary of NATO — strained, in part, by his own brash handling of overseas allies — by stepping into an unlikely role as defender of an alliance he once called “obsolete.”

In a meeting with Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary-general of NATO, Trump said President Emmanuel Macron of France had been “very insulting” to the alliance when he warned recently about the “brain death” of NATO.

Macron had suggested that Europe could no longer assume unwavering support from the United States. The two leaders were scheduled to meet later in the day.

“I think nobody needs it more than France,” Trump said of the alliance, “and that’s why I think when France makes a statement like they made about NATO, that’s a very dangerous statement for them to make.”

Trump’s visit comes as leaders across Europe struggle to balance the shared goal of combating the rising influence of global adversaries — China will be a focus — and containing other unpredictable members, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

On Tuesday, Trump said that he was considering delaying reaching a deal in his protracted and economically damaging trade war with China until after the 2020 election.

“In some ways I like the idea of waiting until after the election for the China deal,” Trump said, adding that he had “no deadline” for reaching an accord.

Experts in the region said they were watching to see whether Macron and Trump could agree on a path forward for NATO. “We need U.S. leadership in order to push any number of things on the NATO agenda, particularly in tougher areas like nuclear modernization or arms control,” said Heather A. Conley, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Trump will also meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and host a private fundraising roundtable with supporters, which Trump campaign officials say will raise $3 million.

Notably absent from the president’s schedule is a one-on-one meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is campaigning before a Dec. 12 election and has been desperate to keep Trump at arm’s length. Johnson is managing the political fallout from a terrorist attack Friday in central London, where a lone extremist fatally stabbed two people and wounded three others.