Trump unequivocally pledges to protect NATO from Russia — but still wants unprecedented backpay

At a joint press conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, US President Donald Trump affirmed his commitment to protecting NATO allies against possible Russian military incursions and made it clear that his problem with NATO is purely monetary.

Asked directly if Trump would answer a call from NATO on Article 5, the clause of the treaty that states that an attack on one NATO state should be responded to as an attack on all NATO states, Trump said "yes, absolutely."

"I have committed, but I am committing the US to Article 5," said Trump.

"Certainly we are there to protect, that's one of there reasons I want people to make sure we have a very very strong force by paying the kind of money necessary to have that force."

Trump's commitment to the alliance came into question after he did not explicitly endorse Article 5 at a NATO summit in Brussels last month. Standing in front of a twisted beam taken from the ruins of the World Trade Center after the September 11 attack on the US, Trump spent most of the speech imploring NATO countries to pay their fair share for the common defense.

The US is the only NATO state to invoke Article 5 in the organization's history, which it did after the September 11 attack.

Trump's prepared remarks in Brussels had mentioned Article 5, but Trump removed the reference without his team's knowledge.

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Trump appears to shove leader at NATO summit
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Trump appears to shove leader at NATO summit
L-R, Belgium's King Philippe, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, U.S. President Donald Trump and Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May react during an aerial fly-pass at the new NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
U.S. President Donald Trump jokes with French President Emmanuel Macron about their handshakes in front of NATO leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (2ndR) and Belgium King Philippe (L), at the start of the NATO summit at their new headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
From 2ndL, Belgium's King Philippe, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, U.S. President Donald Trump, Montenegro's Prime Minister Dusko Markovic, Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite, Croatia's President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Dutch Prime Minster Mark Rutte walk together inside the new NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs
U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May react during a ceremony at the new NATO headquarters before the start of a summit in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Turkey's first lady Emine Erdogan, Iceland's Thora Margret Baldvinsdottir, France's first lady Brigitte Trogneux, U.S. first lady Melania Trump, Slovenia's Mojca Stropnik, Bulgaria's Desislava Radeva, Belgium's Amelie Derbaudrenghien and Norway's Ingrid Schulerud- Stoltenberg and Luxembourg's Gauthier Destenay visit the Magritte Museum in Brussels, May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
U.S. President Donald Trump walks beside Croatia's President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic at the start of the NATO summit at their new headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump (R) and Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel (2ndR) walk past Britain's Prime Minster Theresa May before the start of the NATO summit at their new headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs
U.S. President Donald Trump (R) walks past Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (L), Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (2ndL) and other leaders at the start of the NATO summit at their new headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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Later, White House spokesman Sean Spicer responded to criticisms of Trump's speech saying they were "silly," and that Trump's presence at the summit proved his commitment.

But Trump did depart from orthodoxy on NATO in one dimension, suggesting at the press conference on Friday that NATO states should repay deficits in their spending from years past.

"Do we ever go back and say, how about paying the money from many many years past?" said Trump. "I know no president has ever asked that question, but I do."

Trump was referring to a 2014 commitment by NATO members to spend at least 2% of their GDP on its militaries by the next decade. Currently, only five out of 34 NATO members meet that benchmark, though they have until 2024 to do so.

Russia, which illegally seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and currently supports an armed insurgency there, has alarmed Eastern European states like Romania with their powerful military, which has now reached near parity with US and NATO forces in the region.

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