- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2018

President Trump tore into the NATO summit in Brussels on Wednesday with a double-barrel assault on Germany, saying a pipeline deal would render the country “captive to Russia” even as Berlin looked to the U.S. for defense from Russian aggression.

The charge, leveled at a breakfast meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, surpassed expectations that Mr. Trump would shake up the old military alliance.

In a single exchange, Mr. Trump ripped the pipeline deal that would make Germany an energy hub for Russia and rebuked Germany, the wealthiest nation in Europe, for not paying its fair share for NATO defense.

“I think it’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia where we’re supposed to be guarding against Russia,” Mr. Trump said across the breakfast table to Mr. Stoltenberg.

He said Germany would be “totally controlled by Russia.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel fired back by drawing on her experience growing up in East Germany.

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“I’ve experienced myself a part of Germany controlled by the Soviet Union, and I’m very happy today that we are united in freedom as the Federal Republic of Germany and can thus say that we can determine our own policies and make our own decisions and that’s very good,” she said.

Mr. Trump said the pipeline looked like a sweetheart deal.

“The former chancellor of Germany is head of the pipeline company that’s supplying the gas,” he said. “You tell me, is that appropriate? I’ve been complaining about this from the time I got here.”

The president’s assertions flipped the narrative about Russia, which previously centered on Mr. Trump’s praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Trump’s summit next week with Mr. Putin in Helsinki has been criticized for giving Moscow and NATO equal billing.

The U.S. president also criticized Germany for failing to spend the agreed-upon 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.

The cost-sharing issue tops Mr. Trump’s agenda for the NATO summit. Since the 2016 presidential campaign, he has railed against U.S. picking up the tab for Europe’s defense.

The 29 NATO member countries agreed in 2014 that all should spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense at least by 2024. But last year, according to NATO data, just six countries — the U.S., Britain, Greece, Estonia, Romania and Poland — were meeting that goal. Just two more — Latvia and Lithuania — are expected to do so this year.

Mr. Trump upped the ante in Brussels, saying countries should immediately pay the 2 percent and then increase it to 4 percent.

The U.S. spends about 3.6 percent of GDP on defense and pays for about 22 percent of NATO.

The planned pipeline form Russia to Germany, known as Nord Stream 2, would bypass Eastern European nations and double the amount of gas that Russia can pipe directly to Germany. It already faced opposition among some NATO nations.

In the U.S., Mr. Trump’s tough talk about Germany drew immediate condemnation from the left.

Former Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Mr. Trump “set America back.”

“I’ve never seen a president say anything as strange or counterproductive as President Trump’s harangue against NATO and Germany. It was disgraceful, destructive, and flies in the face of actual American interests,” Mr. Kerry said in a statement.

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Mr. Trump had turned on one of America’s strongest allies.

“Germany has been a stalwart in keeping the sanctions against Russia for annexing Crimea, invading Ukraine, for undermining our democracies through their cyberattacks and trolls,” he said on CNN. “For 17 years, NATO’s allies and their sons and daughters have fought alongside our sons and daughters, many of them losing their lives. The president forgets all of that.”

But several top Republicans credited Mr. Trump with raising important issues.

“I don’t understand why Germany would be so in favor of supporting that particular supply source instead of diversifying,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a frequent critic of Mr. Trump.

Rep. Richard Hudson, North Carolina Republican and a member of the Helsinki Commission that monitors European security accords, said Mr. Trump was “absolutely right.”

“We cannot allow Russia to dramatically increase its stranglehold on European energy,” he said.

In defense of Germany’s dealings with Russia, Mr. Stoltenberg said trade agreements should be viewed separately from military matters.

“I think that even during the Cold War, NATO allies were trading with Russia,” he said.

Mr. Trump responded, “I think trade is wonderful. I think energy is a whole different story. I think energy is a much different story than normal trade.”

The president noted that Poland wouldn’t accept gas from Russia because the Poles don’t want to be put in a compromised position of dependence on Russia.

“So we’re supposed to protect Germany, but they’re getting their energy from Russia. Explain that. And it can’t be explained — you know that,” he said.

Mr. Trump later met with Ms. Merkel on the sidelines of the summit.

“We’re having a great meeting,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “We have a very, very good relationship with the chancellor.”

He said they discussed the pipeline but didn’t give details.

Ms. Merkel said they were discussing immigration and trade issues. Trade is another hot-button issue after the Trump administration imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum and threatened tariffs on automobiles.

Ms. Merkel said Germany and the U.S. were “good partners.”

Meanwhile, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen objected to Mr. Trump’s characterization of the pipeline deal.

“We can cope with it because the numbers are plain and simply not correct. Germany is independent [where] energy supplies are concerned because we are diversified,” she said in an interview with NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

She later added, “There is no substance to that sentence.”

On the cost-sharing issue, Mrs. von der Leyen said Mr. Trump made a “fair point.”

Germany has been working toward the 2 percent goal, she said, but called it a moving target because of the country’s growing economy.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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