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Updated: 07/12/2018 01:19:00AM

Trump claims Germany ‘controlled’ by Russia, Merkel differs

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U.S. President Donald Trump gestures while speaking to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during their bilateral breakfast, Wednesday, July 11, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

U.S. President Donald Trump takes his seat as he attends the multilateral meeting of the North Atlantic Council, Wednesday, July 11, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/pool)

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, talks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, prior to their bilateral breakfast, Wednesday, July 11, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

U.S. President Donald Trump, second right, listens to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, during their bilateral breakfast, Wednesday July 11, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures while speaking to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during their bilateral breakfast, Wednesday, July 11, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, gestures while speaking to U.S. President Donald Trump during their bilateral breakfast, Wednesday, July 11, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

FILE - In this April 9, 2010 file photo a Russian construction worker speaks on a mobile phone in Portovaya Bay some 170 km (106 miles) north-west from St. Petersburg, Russia, during a ceremony marking the start of Nord Stream pipeline construction. In a combative start to his NATO visit, President Donald Trump asserted Wednesday that a pipeline project has made Germany "totally controlled" by and "captive to Russia" and blasted NATO allies' defense spending, opening what was expected to be a fraught summit with a list of grievances involving American allies. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, file)

By JONATHAN LEMIRE and JILL COLVIN

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BRUSSELS — President Donald Trump barreled into a NATO summit Wednesday with claims that a natural gas pipeline deal has left Germany “totally controlled” and “captive to Russia” as he lobbed fresh complaints about allies’ “delinquent” defense spending during the opening of what was expected to be a fraught two-day meeting.

Trump also suggested that NATO allies commit to spending 4 percent of their gross domestic product on defense — double the current goal of 2 percent by 2024.

The president, in a testy exchange with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that kicked off his visit, took issue with the U.S. protecting Germany as it strikes deals with Russia.

“I have to say, 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,” Trump said at a breakfast with Stoltenberg. “We’re supposed to protect you against Russia but they’re paying billions of dollars to Russia and I think that’s very inappropriate.”

Trump repeatedly described Germany as “captive to Russia” because of the energy deal and urged NATO to look into the issue.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed back firmly, insisting that Germany makes its own decisions and drawing on her own background growing up in communist East Germany behind the Iron Curtain.

“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.

The president appeared to be referring to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would bring gas from Russia to Germany’s northeastern Baltic coast, bypassing Eastern European nations like Poland and Ukraine and doubling the amount of gas Russia can send directly to Germany. The vast undersea pipeline is opposed by the U.S. and some other EU members, who warn it could give Moscow greater leverage over Western Europe. It’s expected to be online at the end of 2019.

Environmental-conscious Germany is trying to reduce its reliance on coal and is phasing out nuclear power by 2022, so it hopes to use natural gas to partially fill the gap until the country’s electricity grid can cope with fluctuating levels provided by renewable energy. The alternatives, including U.S. supplies, are more expensive.

In their back-and-forth, Stoltenberg stressed to Trump that NATO members have been able to work together despite their differences. “I think that two world wars and the Cold War taught us that we are stronger together than apart,” he told the president, trying to calm tensions.

Trump’s dramatic exchange with Stoltenberg set the tone for what was already expected to be a tense day of meetings with leaders of the military alliance as Trump presses jittery NATO allies about their military spending ahead of his meeting next week with Putin.

“The United States is paying far too much and other countries are not paying enough, especially some. So we’re going to have a meeting on that,” Trump said, describing the situation as “disproportionate and not fair to the taxpayers of the United States.”

“They will spend more,” he later predicted. “I have great confidence they’ll be spending more.”

And with that, he went on to push allies at the summit to double their commitment on defense spending.

“During the president’s remarks today at the NATO summit, he suggested that countries not only meet their commitment of 2 percent of their GDP on defense spending, but that they increase it to 4 percent,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She said the president raised the same issue at NATO last year and that, “Trump wants to see our allies share more of the burden and at a very minimum meet their already stated obligations.”

However, a formal summit declaration issued by the NATO leaders Wednesday reaffirmed their “unwavering commitment” to the 2 percent pledge set in 2014 and made no reference to any effort to get to 4 percent.

Trump’s pipeline criticism was an unusual line of attack for a president who has proclaimed himself eager to improve relations with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and dismissed the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia tried to undermine Western democracy by meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help Trump win. Trump has long argued that improving relaxations with Russia would be good for both nations.

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch took issue with Trump, saying “I don’t agree with that. Germans wouldn’t agree with that. They are a very strong people.”

But Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, a strong supporter of the president, said the pipeline issue strikes at the “heart of NATO unity.”

“The pipeline gets cheap Russian gas to Germany while bypassing smaller Eastern European nations, allowing Russia to pressure them while Germany is held harmless,” he tweeted, adding: “No amount of preening in Berlin will cover this nakedly selfish policy.”

Trump and Merkel met later Wednesday on the sidelines of the summit and kept their remarks polite during a photo opportunity with the press.

Trump told reporters the two had a “very, very good relationship” and congratulated Merkel on her “tremendous success.” Asked if they had discussed the pipeline, he said they had, but declined to elaborate.

Merkel, for her part, called the two nations “good partners” and said “we wish to continue to cooperate in the future.”

Trump then met with French President Emmanuel Macron, who said he disagreed with Trump’s pipeline assessment. But the two appeared on good terms, with Trump joking about the fact that Macron had been asked about it.

Trump has long pushed NATO members to meet their agreed-to target of 2 percent by 2024 and has accused those who don’t of freeloading off the U.S.


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