Trump stokes tensions with US allies ahead of NATO summit

As he left the White House to travel to Europe on Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump had more harsh words for the multi-country military alliance that has been a punching bag throughout his campaign and into his presidency.

“It’s certainly going to be an interesting time with NATO,” Trump said Tuesday morning as he headed to Brussels. “NATO has not treated us fairly, but I think we’ll work something out. We pay far too much and they pay far too little. But we will work it out, and all countries will be happy.”

Trump claims that other NATO countries have not been paying their fair share of the costs to support the alliance, which seeks to protect the U.S., Canada and European nations from attacks by hostile actors, such as Russia.

As Trump attacked fellow NATO member countries, he also downplayed Russia’s role as an aggressor, calling the country a “competitor” rather than an adversary. He also said that his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki next week would be the “easiest” of the meetings he’ll have while he’s abroad.

“I think that getting along with Russia, getting along with China, getting along with others is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Trump said. ”I’ve said that many times for many years. So we’ll see. We’re meeting with Vladimir Putin on Monday. We’ll see how that goes.”

Trump’s willingness to attack ally nations, and not Russia — which meddled in U.S. and European elections — is concerning to other NATO nations, the New York Times reported.

Trump has gone as far as threatening to pull troops out of Germany over his anger at the country’s level of contributions to NATO’s budget, according to the New York Times.

However, former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), who is the current U.S. ambassador to NATO, told reporters in a conference call last week that Trump is committed to “NATO’s strength and unity,” according to the New York Times.

But even the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, appears worried about how Trump will behave at the NATO summit and in the one-on-one meeting with Putin.

“Things to remember before @realDonaldTrump travels to Europe: Russia is the aggressor — Ukraine is the victim. Crimea belongs to Ukraine. NATO & US troops in Europe serve our national interests. Europeans must spend more on defense. Putin’s track record shows he can’t be trusted,” the Heritage Foundation tweeted on July 5.

Following the NATO summit in Brussels, Trump will then make his long-awaited visit to the United Kingdom, where he will meet with Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Theresa May. Afterwards he will spend the weekend in Scotland at his gold club, Trump Turnberry, in Ayrshire. Trump then heads to Helsinki to meet Putin.