Donald Trump has declared the Nato military alliance “no longer obsolete” – marking a significant change of direction from his campaign rhetoric and against a backdrop of rising tensions with Russia.
Hosting Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, at the White House, the US president abandoned his long-time position of trashing the transatlantic alliance.
His previous stance had alarmed and confused US allies in Europe.
Instead, Trump called Nato a “bulwark of international peace and security” and attempted to take credit for Nato “now” fighting terrorism and increasing defence spending.
“I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete,” Trump said.
Stoltenberg subtly corrected Trump’s portrayal of himself as a force redirecting Nato.
Without calling him out, Stoltenberg reminded Trump that Nato had sent hundreds of thousands of troops to Afghanistan over the past 15 years.
And Nato had “turned a corner” on increased burden-sharing, Stoltenberg said, following commitments made in Wales in 2014.
The two leaders spoke shortly after US secretary of state Rex Tillerson met Russian president Vladimir Putin and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow.
The Kremlin did not hide its anger over last week’s US missile strike on a Syrian airfield. Russia is the major backer of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
Trump called Tillerson’s meeting “very successful”, even though Lavrov publicly rejected the central purpose of the diplomatic mission: to convince Russia to abandon Assad.
But the typically bombastic Trump had only muted criticism of Putin.
“It would be a fantastic thing if we got along with Putin and if we got along with Russia. That could happen and it could maybe not happen or just the opposite,” Trump said.
Trump, who said relations with Russia were at an all-time low, faces an FBI investigation into his myriad connections with Russia, the central scandal of his administration.
Yesterday the Washington Post revealed that former foreign policy aide Carter Page, who had been identified as a contact of a Russian spy charged in 2015, has had his communications monitored by the FBI as an agent of a foreign power.
Former campaign manager Paul Manafort said he is “taking appropriate steps” to register as an agent of a foreign power for “some of his past political work”, which included aiding a pro-Russia party in Ukraine.