Donald Trump has claimed victory at the Nato summit, saying progress had been made on defence spending only hours after throwing the Brussels meeting intodisarray with fresh attacks on European allies.
Asked whether he had threatened to pull out of Nato, the US president did not directly deny it. He told a surprise press conference before he was scheduled to leave that he only told people he would be “extremely unhappy” if spending was not increased.
Trump claimed he could pull the US out of Nato without the approval of Congress. “I think I probably can but that’s unnecessary,” he said.
He said the alliance members had agreed to reach spending 2% of GDP on defence faster than previously planned and claimed financial commitments would increase beyond that in future.
But other delegations and Nato officials contradicted Trump, saying he had secured no significant concessions and their defence spending plans remained basically the same as they had been before the summit.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, denied Trump’s claim that Nato powers agreed to increase defence spending beyond previous targets.
The renewed criticism of European Nato members for not spending enough on defence came at a closed session on Thursday morning that had been intended to be confined to non-budgetary issues.
The US president’s outburst led to the scrapping of a series of press conferences and bilateral meetings as European leaders struggled to respond. The British prime minister, Theresa May, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, cancelled press conferences.
Trump turned up late for the morning sessions involving Nato leaders, intended to discuss the accession of Ukraine and Georgia to the alliance. When he delivered his rebuke about defence spending, the Ukrainian and Georgian leaders were asked to leave because it was a purely Nato matter.
Soon after, the meeting broke up. European leaders retreated to their offices for discussion with their officials.
At a 35-minute press conference at Nato headquarters, Trump seemed to contradict his earlier criticism of Nato and the European member states. He said US commitment to Nato “remained “very strong” and the “fantastic” meeting of the alliance members had demonstrated “a great collegial spirit”.
He added: “Nato is much stronger now than it was two days ago.”
Trump, who leaves Brussels for a visit to the UK, said he was fine about the protests planned for his trip and insisted he was popular in the UK.
He said he had described the UK as “a hotspot” because of Brexit and the cabinet resignations. “There will be protests. There will always be protests,” he said, adding that people in the UK liked him and agreed with him on immigration.
The turmoil at the Nato summit came a day after Trump strongly criticised Germany for not spending enough on defence. Officials from the European delegations subsequently said he had been relatively calm in the closed sessions later on Thursday and during a working dinner.
In spite of that, a tweet from Trump on Wednesday showed he remained far from satisfied with the European response.
The tweet fitted into a pattern throughout the two-day summit, with Trump at one moment ranting at European allies and the next insisting relations are good.
Trump had planned to step out of the closed session to hold bilateral meetings with the leaders of Azerbaijan, Romania, Ukraine and Georgia.