- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 21, 2016

CLEVELAND — The Obama White House and Hillary Clinton’s campaign were quick to pounce Thursday on new comments from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump raising fresh questions over the U.S. commitment to its NATO allies, while GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence said Mr. Trump would honor U.S. treaty obligations while getting NATO’s European members to pay their fair share.

On the eve of his speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination, Mr. Trump sparked another diplomatic firestorm by expanding in a New York Times interview on past statements about the failure of some European countries to pay their promised share of the defense budget.

“The U.S. commitment to that pledge is ironclad,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “There should be no mistake or miscalculation made about this country’s commitment to our trans-Atlantic alliance.”

Asked about Russia’s threatening activities that have unnerved small Baltic States that are recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid after reviewing whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us,” according to the New York Times.

“If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes,” Mr. Trump reportedly said.

Asked what he would do if Russia came over the border into Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania, Mr. Trump said he didn’t want to say because he doesn’t want Russian President Vladimir Putin to know what he would do, according to a transcript of the interview.

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“Many NATO nations are not making payments, are not making what they’re supposed to make,” Mr. Trump said, according to the transcript. “That’s a big thing. You can’t say, ‘Forget that.’”

The White House wouldn’t comment specifically on Mr. Trump’s comments. But Mr. Earnest said NATO’s status as a cornerstone of U.S. national security “is a policy that the United States has pursued under every post-World War II president, Democrat or Republican.”

“The cornerstone of that alliance is a pledge that all of the allies have made to mutual self-defense,” Mr. Earnest said.

Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s campaign quickly jumped on Mr. Trump’s reported comments, with senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan saying former President Reagan and former President Truman would be “ashamed.”

“Republicans, Democrats and independents who help build NATO into the most successful military alliance in history would all come to the same conclusion: Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit and fundamentally ill-prepared to be our commander in chief,” Mr. Sullivan said.

But Mr. Pence pushed back strongly on his first full day after addressing the Republican nominating convention here, saying on “Fox and Friends” that a President Trump will both ensure the U.S. stands with allies while projecting strength abroad.

“The NATO alliance, since World War II, has been a mutual defense alliance, and I have every confidence that Donald Trump will see to it that the United States of America stands by our allies and lives up to our treaty obligations,” Mr. Pence said Thursday.

“But that being said, I think he makes he makes an enormously important point that I think resonates with millions of Americans that at a time where we have $19 trillion in national debt, that we need to begin to look to our allies around the world to step up and pay their fair share,” he said.

Eric Trump, meanwhile, on Thursday said his father “absolutely” believes in NATO.

“I think his message is the fact that every country that’s part of NATO should pay their own weight,” the younger Mr. Trump said on “CBS This Morning.”

Mr. Pence said he hadn’t seen the exact context of Mr. Trump’s comments, but he said Mr. Trump’s broader position is that it’s time for U.S. allies in treaty obligations and NATO to start paying their fair share — a point Mr. Trump has made before.

Mr. Trump’s comments also provoked a range of reactions overseas, from alarm to shrugs about the rhetoric of American political campaigns.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he would “not interfere in the U.S. election campaign, but what I can do is say what matters for NATO. Solidarity among allies is a key value for NATO.”

“This is good for European security and good for U.S. security. We defend one another,” he said.

Retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis, former supreme allied commander of NATO, said on Twitter that Mr. Trump’s comments are “deeply dangerous.”

“I can hear [Russian President] Vladimir Putin chortling from here,” he tweeted.

But some NATO allies took Mr. Trump’s latest words in stride.

“We expect that regardless of who wins the presidential elections, the U.S. will remain a firm and reliable partner within NATO,” Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka told The Associated Press.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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