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.

RELATED: President Trump attends 2018 NATO summit

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President Trump attends 2018 NATO summit
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President Trump attends 2018 NATO summit
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive aboard Air Force One ahead of the NATO Summit, at Brussels Military Airport in Melsbroek, Belgium July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump holds a breakfast meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) at the NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium, July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump (R) and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) are reflected in a mirror as they attend at a breakfast meeting with the NATO Secretary General and staff at the US chief of mission's residence in Brussels on July 11, 2018, ahead of a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) summit. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (C) arrives to attend the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) summit, in Brussels, on July 11, 2018. (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP) (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (C) shakes hands with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as he arrives to attend the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) summit, in Brussels, on July 11, 2018. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump is greeted by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during his official arrival at the NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman
U.S. President Donald Trump is greeted by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg before a bilateral breakfast ahead of the NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for a welcoming ceremony by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the start of a NATO summit at the Alliance?s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Paul Hanna
U.S. President Donald Trump is welcomed by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the start of a NATO summit at the Alliance?s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Paul Hanna
U.S. President Donald Trump is welcomed by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the start of a NATO summit at the Alliance?s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
France's President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Donald Trump are seen at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium July 11, 2018. Tatyana Zenkovich/Pool via REUTERS
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with French President Emmanuel Macron during the NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump and Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May talk as NATO leaders pose for a family photo at the start of the NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman
France's President Emmanuel Macron, U.S. President Donald Trump and Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg are seen at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium July 11, 2018. Tatyana Zenkovich/Pool via REUTERS
France's President Emmanuel Macron, U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan are seen at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium July 11, 2018. Tatyana Zenkovich/Pool via REUTERS
Heads of governments of member countries of NATO at the opening ceremony of NATO summit 2018 in front of NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on July 11, 2018. (Photo by Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - JULY 11: Heads of state and government, including (from L to R, first row) Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May pose for the family photo during the opening ceremony at the 2018 NATO Summit at NATO headquarters on July 11, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. Leaders from NATO member and partner states are meeting for a two-day summit, which is being overshadowed by strong demands by U.S. President Trump for most NATO member countries to pay more towards funding the alliance. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
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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.

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