Trump says leaving NATO is 'unnecessary,' claims allies anted up

BRUSSELS — President Donald Trump said Thursday that it is “unnecessary” for the United States to pull out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, citing European nations’ commitments to increase spending on their own militaries on an accelerated timeline.

Speaking at a press conference at the end of a two-day summit here, an unusually sedate Trump said he had been “extremely unhappy” with the reluctance of many NATO nations to meet an agreed-upon goal of each country spending 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense. That changed overnight.

But it was not clear that Trump had actually extracted any new concessions from U.S. allies. The leaders of the 29-member nations released a 79-point joint declaration Wednesday, and French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday that Trump had neither threatened to withdraw from NATO nor secured new promises to increase funding from his partners at the summit.

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While Trump was short on detail, he was long on unity — the theme U.S. officials and European leaders had hoped would emerge in advance of Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week.

“It all came together at the end,” Trump said.

But Trump’s tone and his demands were much different Thursday than they had been Wednesday when he asked NATO countries to raise their defense-spending threshold to 4 percent of GDP and slammed Germany as a “captive” of Russia because it buys oil and gas from Moscow.

Asked whether he was threatening to pull out of NATO for any reason and whether he could do that without Congress — Trump chose to lower the temperature.

“I think I probably can,” Trump said, “but that’s unnecessary.”

Reiterating that he sees Putin as a "competitor" —rather than as a friend or foe, Trump said he will discuss a variety of issues with the Russian president when they sit down in Helsinki Monday, including Russia's interference in American elections.

Trump has said in the past that he believes Putin's denial of election meddling and predicted Putin wouldn't change his tune.

"He may deny it," Trump said. "All I can do is say, ‘did you and don’t do it again.’ But he may deny.”

On an issue of more immediate importance to Eastern European members of NATO, Trump showed no sign that he would seek to punish Putin for the annexation of Crimea.

"“I’m not happy about Crimea," Trump said. But he noted the investments Russia has made in the region and said he is unsure how the situation will turn out.