Trump-Putin summit: US president reverses remark on Russia meddling

Trump sheds light on his crucial error at Putin summit

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Media captionTrump sheds light on his crucial error at Putin summit

US President Donald Trump has said he accepts US intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election – despite declining to do so just a day ago.

He said he had misspoken on Monday and had meant to say he saw no reason why it was not Russia that meddled.

The original comments, after he met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, drew a barrage of criticism.

Even some of Mr Trump’s allies had urged him to clarify his stance.

In his latest remarks, he added he had “full faith and support” in US intelligence agencies.

What he said then…

The controversy centres on a response he gave to a question at a news conference on Monday following the summit with Mr Putin.

This is an extract from the transcript posted by the White House.

REPORTER: President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every US intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did. My first question for you, sir, is, who do you believe?

TRUMP: My people came to me… they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.

…. what he says now

Mr Trump said he had reviewed the transcript and realised he needed to clarify.

“In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t,” he said.

“The sentence should have been: ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t’ or ‘why it wouldn’t be Russia’. Sort of a double negative.”

The US president added: “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”

Media captionThe ways Trump and Putin see eye to eye

Mr Trump said that the interference had had no impact on the election, in which he defeated Hillary Clinton.

However, he did not respond when reporters asked him if he would condemn Mr Putin.

Why the outrage?

Republicans and Democrats alike were dumbfounded that Mr Trump sided with Russia over his own intelligence officials after Monday’s summit.

The US and Russia have been long-term adversaries, and remain far apart on major issues. Some lawmakers were also upset that he refused to offer specific criticisms of Russia and Mr Putin, instead saying both countries were responsible for poor relations.

Even one of his most loyal Republican supporters, Newt Gingrich, said the comments were the “most serious mistake of his presidency”.

After the reversal, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer accused the US president of cowardice.


The damage has been done

By the BBC’s Anthony Zurcher in Washington

Does Donald Trump believe in ominous metaphors? As he affirmed his support for US intelligence agencies, the lights went to black in the White House conference room.

Once order was restored, he said he had been in the dark why a storm has swirled around his presidency in the day since his Helsinki summit with Vladimir Putin. It was, he says, because he misspoke.

That is going to be hard for many of the president’s critics to swallow, however. Even if he did mean to say, “I don’t see a reason why it wouldn’t be Russia”, it is a pretty weak way to confront the head of a nation accused of targeting the heart of American democracy.

What’s more, the context of the president’s comments make a simple slip of the tongue seem less likely.

At the very least, the president gave his supporters some material to rally around.

The damage, however, has been done. Mr Trump can give as many White House statements as he likes, but on the biggest stage – standing beside the Russian president – he fumbled. All the explanations can’t change that.


US General Ben Hodges: ‘Russia only respects strength’

In the space of a week, the US president has attacked NATO and cozied up to Vladimir Putin. Retired US Army General Ben Hodges told DW that Trump alienating US allies “worries every military professional” he knows.

    
Polen Warschau Militärparade US General Ben Hodges (picture-alliance/(AP Photo/A. Keplicz)

After military experience in Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Frederick “Ben” Hodges served his last military assignment as commander of the United States Army in Europe, before his retirement in December 2017. Now living in Frankfurt, Germany, he is Pershing Chair of Strategic Studies at the Washington-based Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA).

DW: What did you make of President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with his US counterpart Donald Trump in Helsinki? Do you share what seems to be the common view: That it was a diplomatic disaster that undermines multilateral alliances like NATO?

Hodges: I’m reluctant to say anything is a disaster so immediately after it happened. It’s just going to take a little bit of time for things to filter out. Certainly all the reports I’ve seen would indicate that nobody was happy with it except the Russians. I think, on the plus side, at least there have been no announcements of something like: You can do what you want with Ukraine or Georgia. There’s no indication that this was like in the 18th century, when great powers traded away space to each other. I think there’s a little bit of a sigh of relief that way.

I think it’s going to be a huge problem for Trump in the US, because so many Republicans have also come out with very strong criticism, that he didn’t put a stake in the heart of this whole business about Russian meddling in the US election. He wouldn’t condemn it, he didn’t hold Putin accountable, I mean, it’s inexplicable.

Watch video01:32

Donald Trump draws fierce criticism after Putin summit

DW: Trump began his European trip by criticizing NATO allies and ended it by failing to criticize Putin. What should we read into that?

First and foremost, our great alliance NATO — it’s not perfect, lots of work that always needs doing — but it’s still the most successful alliance in the history of the world. The alliance has made it through tough times before, but it was always because the nations shared common interests and values, and there was never a question that the US would always provide leadership. For the first time in my life, the American president put that in question, which really concerns me. What is new is that the president is so openly disrespectful and dismissive of our most important allies — that worries every military professional I know.

Helsinki Trump Putin (picture alliance/dpa)Many people interpreted the Helsinki meeting as a disaster for Trump

Read more: Trump ignites firestorm with attacks on Germany

Secondly, I don’t think the president appreciates alliances and international organizations. I think that’s unfortunate, because for the US, the alliance is an essential part of our overall national security strategy. The 30,000 troops that are in Germany are not there to defend Germany, that’s part of our overall contribution to collective security. And frankly Germany is the essential ally for the US, because of the access it gives us to do so much. It’s our forward presence, if you will, our intelligence cooperation. I’ve always believed that Germany is the ally the US should be working hardest to have that relationship with. The fact that the president singled out the chancellor: I think that was a terrible mistake.

Read moreOpinion: Trump-Putin summit was a troubling media circus

DW: But many analysts and conservative German politicians shared Trump’s criticism that Germany should be spending more on defense.

Yes, having said all that, while most of the nations were beginning to do more in terms of burden-sharing, I think the president drew a lot of attention to it and probably added some momentum to it, which is needed. So I think he should get some credit for that. Honestly, half of America doesn’t understand either why European countries don’t do more. But I didn’t like the way it’s done – I think it’s harmful in the long run.

DW: A lot of the points that Trump made — on NATO spending, and on Nord Stream 2 — are shared by defense analysts. So it just Trump’s style that bothers people?

I don’t want to say it’s just style — that minimizes the damage that Trump does to these relationships. Style is a part of it, but it’s much worse than that, it’s a disregard for our allies and what it means to be an ally. Germany does so much to help the alliance, and to help the United States, which doesn’t fit into this 2 percent (the percentage of GDP that NATO wants its members to spend on defense – DW). I really don’t like that 2 percent as the only measure. I understand why we have it, but I think it’s time for a much more sophisticated approach to burden-sharing, and what it really means. What the alliance needs Germany to do just doesn’t fit neatly under that 2 percent.

Watch video06:15

Trump’s European trip ‘an unblemished win for Putin’

DW: Some people in Germany are a little distrustful of NATO and the Cold War rhetoric of antagonism towards Russia. They aren’t Trump supporters, but they certainly don’t want conflict with Russia either. Do you think there’s any truth to the idea that we make the threat of Russia bigger than it is?

No, absolutely not. For 400 hundred years, Russia has always used every element of its power, whether it’s economic, diplomatic, or military power, to achieve what it wanted. We need to be realistic about it: Russia only respects strength. Russia’s the one that invaded Ukraine, Russia’s the one that invaded Georgia, Russia’s the one that’s threatening Baltic countries, and talks about Romania, Denmark, and Sweden being nuclear targets — this is a real threat.

Now, there’s not a long line of Russian tanks sitting across the border with engines running waiting to launch a ground invasion. I don’t expect that, although they’ve retained that capability in combination with cyber- and misinformation, and the threat of nuclear weapons. Number two: All of us, including the US, disarmed significantly in the last few years because we thought Russia was going to be our partner. The last American tank went home from Germany five years ago. The Bundeswehr almost completely disarmed, and now because of what Russia has done, everybody is hustling to rebuild sufficient capability to deter.

Read moreGerman politicians rally round Merkel after Trump’s NATO tirade

DW: So in that context, how worrying was this summit, and the apparent hold that Putin has over Trump?

Well, the fact that they met is not bad. In fact, the tenser the situation is the more you would want people to meet to make sure there are no misunderstandings. The problem is so many people don’t have confidence in what President Trump is doing or saying. Meeting for the sake of meeting is not helpful if you’re not clear about expectations and if you’re not putting pressure on Russia. Again, the Russians only respect strength, and I think right now the alliance does not look strong, and the president does not look strong.

COURTESY: DW

‘Two boxers starting a match’: Trump and Putin’s gestures dissected by body language expert

Donald Trump appeared uncomfortable but confident before his summit with Vladimir Putin, a body language expert told RT, noting that both leaders looked more relaxed after their meeting – perhaps a sign of the summit’s success.

Speaking with the press before launching into a private meeting that lasted more than two hours, Trump and Putin’s posture and hand gestures provided clues about how the two leaders were feeling about the summit and about each other, according to Howard Feldman, an analyst and body language expert.

Feldman told RT that it was important to note the context of meeting and that both leaders knew that the world would be dissecting their every move.

“Trump is coming from a very, very highly critical domestic America. Hillary Clinton tweeted just before they met, asking which team he’s on – referring to the World Cup. So, he’s very aware that his whole country is looking at him and trying to interpret what is really going on between these two leaders.”

Although Putin may have been a bit more at ease – perhaps due in part to not having to travel as far for the meeting, and the successful completion of the World Cup – both leaders at first looked “very, very uncomfortable,” Feldman said.
“They look like a divorcing couple. They don’t look like people who are happy to be seeing each other.”

He said that unlike Trump’s signature handshake – the US leader is known for his macho hand-throttling – the two leaders engaged in a more reserved greeting.

“What we see about that handshake is that it is a very distant handshake, it’s not one where their whole bodies are involved. So, it’s not a friendly handshake. It’s a very fair handshake. It’s almost like two boxers starting the beginning of a match.”

Pointing to Trump’s “steeple” hand position, Feldman observed that Trump also appeared to be confident – signaling that, despite his anxiousness, the US leader had high hopes for the meeting.

Some of the body language may have been calculated, however, Feldman noted, suggesting that “Trump wanted to show America that he was going in as a difficult, tough negotiator,” and only put down his guard after the meeting. “To me it looked a little bit staged,” he said.

On the topic of Trump’s much-discussed wink, Feldman asserted that there was nothing revealing about it, aside from showing that the US leader may have been trying to lighten the mood.

“What I think is that it was a friendly gesture to himself. I think he was trying to relax a little bit. I don’t think that that wink conveyed any natural warmth, I don’t think it conveyed comradery between the two. If it was any form of communication, which I’m not sure that it was, it might have been ‘alright, we gotta do this, so let’s make the best of it.’ But I don’t think we can read too much into that,” the body language expert told RT. “If anything, my thought is that he was almost comforting himself with that wink. I don’t buy it as being anything friendly.”

After emerging from their meeting, Feldman said that Trump and Putin appeared more comfortable in each other’s presence – possibly an indicator that their talks were productive.

“It might be general protocol but you did get the sense, even from the way they were holding the podiums, that it was a little bit more relaxed,” Feldman said. “When Putin was speaking, you saw Trump leaning a little bit more towards him. There was a natural comfort after the private meeting. Indications are that the meeting went well.”

According to the body language specialist, Trump likely had more difficulty hiding his true emotions, while Putin’s tenure as Russian president has given him lots of experience in “political posturing.”

Feldman said that, while he sensed that “optics were involved” in the way that the two leaders presented themselves, “we can’t really hide our body language all the time, because something is going to give it away.” He predicted that if the two presidents were to meet again, their body language would appear much more relaxed – and Trump would likely even give Putin’s hand a firm squeeze.

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COURTESY: TWP

Donald Trump lands in a UK ‘in turmoil’; baby blimp awaits

Following tense NATO talks in Brussels, Donald Trump has arrived in Brexit-roiled Britain for his first visit as the US president. Thousands are planning to receive him with an oversize balloon with undersize hands.

    
US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at Stansted Airport

On Thursday, Air Force One landed at London Stansted Airport, and US President Donald Trump descended its stairs to begin his four-day visit to Britain. The day’s plans included a gala dinner with UK and US officials at Blenheim Palace, the ancestral home of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

“They like me a lot in the UK,” Trump told a news conference in Brussels, where he had spent the early part of the week shaking up NATO’s annual summit, shortly before lifting off for London on Thursday. “I think they agree with me on immigration. I think that’s why Brexit happened.”

DW’s Birgit Maas was on the scene at the US Embassy in London, Trump’s first stop in town.

Birgit Maass@birgit_maass

US citizens meeting with ⁦@realDonaldTrump⁩ ending at US ambassador’s residence. “We are proud of our president and how he is defending the western world.”Meanwhile outside, protesters are gearing up.Follow our coverage @dwnews⁩ ⁦@dw_europe⁩ ⁦@BarbaraWesel

On his first visit to the UK since taking office, Trump will meet with Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday and then have tea with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle before flying off to Scotland to, as he so often does back home in the United States, spend the weekend at one of his private golf courses.

A six-meter high cartoon baby blimp of US President Donald Trump stands inflated during a practice session in Bingfield Park, north London.Perhaps the biggest star in Britain right now is the 6-meter blimp of President Trump

‘His repugnant attitude’

Trump is expected to be transferred by helicopter from location to location to avoid protests.

The centerpiece of the rallies has been an oversize balloon depicting the president as an angry baby with small hands, a mobile phone and a diaper.

Theresa May and Donald Trump at the NATO summitTheresa May and Donald Trump at the NATO summit

“The president of the United States of America will regretfully have the red carpet rolled out for him by this Conservative government,” Ian Blackford, the Scottish National Party’s leader in the Westminster parliament, had told lawmakers on Wednesday.

“But, from the public, the welcome will be far from warm,” he added, saying there would be protests across the country against Trump’s “abysmal record on human rights, his repugnant attitude towards women and his disgusting treatment of minorities.”

Amnesty International unfurled a banner with an image of Trump and the words “Human Rights Nightmare” on Vauxhall Bridge in central London:

Stefan Simanowitz

@StefSimanowitz

Welcome to England, Donald.

Amnesty UK unfurl a giant “: Human rights nightmare” banner opposite the US Embassy in London.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday, the Liverpool Labour MP Dan Carden called for Parliament to ensure that protesters were given sufficient space to express their views, saying police in London had denied demonstrators a proper stage from which to address the rallies.

“People are protesting the visit of President Trump, demonstrating their opposition to his bigotry and racism — comparing migrants to poisonous snakes, Mexicans to murderers and rapists — and state-sanctioned child abuse, and that is their right to do so,” Carden said, addressing Nick Hurd, Britain’s minister of state for policing and fire services. “But the protest tomorrow in central London, where the Metropolitan Police have taken the decision not to allow a platform for speakers, that is an absolute disgrace, and the minister must intervene immediately to put this right. And a failure to do so would leave a permanent stain on our democratic rights and freedom of speech.”

Dan Carden MP

@DanCardenMP

Disgraceful that tomorrow’s central London protest in response to President Trump’s visit to the UK has been denied a platform for speakers. This decision must be reversed. @metpoliceuk

A YouGov poll released on Wednesday found that 77 percent of respondents had an unfavorable opinion of Trump and just 50 percent thought his visit should have gone ahead.

Watch video00:35

UK protesters inflate Trump blimp

Ruffling feathers

The dislike for Trump in the UK became most apparent during the 2016 presidential campaign, when, as a candidate, he proposed temporarily banning Muslims from entering the United States. That prompted nearly half a million people to sign a petition calling for him to be banned from the UK. The proposal was debated in Parliament, where Trump was heavily criticized. There was no vote and no ban was imposed.

As president, Trump angered May and many others in the UK by retweeting unverified anti-Islamic videos from Britain First, a group whose leaders have been convicted of hate crimes.

Read moreBritain First: Trump’s ‘simply racist’ new Twitter pals

In January, the US president canceled a planned visit to London to open the new US Embassy, calling it a bad deal in a poor location.

Just before departing for Europe earlier this week, Trump ruffled feathers again by saying the UK was in “turmoil,” referring to the resignation of two prominent Cabinet ministers who were protesting May’s Brexit policy.

The US Embassy has warned American citizens to keep a low profile during the visit in case protests turn violent.

A high metal fence has been erected around the US ambassador’s central London residence, where Trump will spend Thursday night.

Watch video03:13

Trump and Brexit – a clash of generations

Working visit

Trump’s trip is part of a working visit and not a state one. The state visit invitation was given to him personally by May just days after his inauguration before being postponed indefinitely.

A working visit means that Trump will not be hosted by the queen and will not stay at Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle. However, he will take tea with the queen.

One key UK ally Trump will not meet is Nigel Farage; the former UKIP leader alleges that this was one of the British government’s red lines for Trump’s trip.

Trump’s plans to stay in Scotland for the weekend at one of his two golf courses formed part of the social media campaign in opposition to his visit:

Trump Baby@TrumpBabyUK

Tremendous chance for First Minister @NicolaSturgeon to show great courage and let fly over my incredible golf hideout! Nicola is a very Special Lady, she can show my many friends in Scotland they have elected someone they can be very proud of! https://www.change.org/p/chief-constable-police-scotland-allow-clearance-for-babytrump-to-be-flown-near-turnberry-on-trumps-visit?recruiter=410375992&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition 

Sign the Petition

Chief Constable Police Scotland: Allow clearance for BabyTrump to be flown near Turnberry on Trumps Visit

change.org

‘Future-proof trade partnership’

May is hoping that Trump’s trip will create closer ties and help forge a future free trade deal for once Britain leaves the EU.

“Our trade and investment relationship is unrivaled — we are the largest investors in each other’s economies and every day a million British people go to work for US companies in the UK and a million Americans go to work for UK companies in the US,” May said.

“This week we have an opportunity to deepen this unique trading relationship and begin discussions about how we will forge a strengthened, ambitious and future-proof trade partnership.”

The leaders are also expected to discuss Russia, Brexit and the Middle East.

mkg,jm/rc (AP, Reuters)

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DW RECOMMENDS

German politicians rally round Angela Merkel after Donald Trump’s NATO tirade

Trump’s reckless attacks on Germany have become routine, but they have strengthened rather than weakened the chancellor at home. So, does Trump merely have a personal problem with Merkel, or does he have other motives?

    
Donald Trump and Chancellor Merkel (picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld)

Donald Trump seems to have a Germany obsession, the country’s biggest newspaper, Bild, said on Thursday. Whether it’s the country’s refugee policy, (Merkel is “ruining Germany” he tweeted in 2015), the luxury cars (he told Playboy as long ago as 1990 that he would like to tax them more heavily), or its NATO contributions, the US president has consistently picked on Germany when he needs a foreign power to lash out at.

The latest rock was thrown on Wednesday night, when Trump took to Twitter to repeat his blustering opening tirade before NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels. For the US president, Germany’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline deal with Russia was at odds with its defense budget, which he thinks is too low.

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

….On top of it all, Germany just started paying Russia, the country they want protection from, Billions of Dollars for their Energy needs coming out of a new pipeline from Russia. Not acceptable! All NATO Nations must meet their 2% commitment, and that must ultimately go to 4%!

Defending Merkel

Once Merkel had delivered her own reaction, in the form of a history lesson and her personal history in East Germany, other German government politicians lined up to reject Trump’s criticisms. First Foreign Minister Heiko Maas vehemently rejected Trump’s description of Germany as a “captive of Russia.” Germany was one of the “guarantors of the free world,” he told reporters in Brussels. “We’re not captives, either of Russia or the US.”

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen pointed out to US radio station NPR that Trump’s assertion that Germany gets 70 percent of its energy from Russia was “simply not true.” The actual figure, the German government said, is around 9 percent.

Merkel’s coalition partners also circled the wagons. “The accusations of the American president against Germany because of the building of Nord Stream 2 are not objective and immoderate,” said Rolf Mützenich, senior MP at the Social Democratic Party (SPD), in a statement. “They simply follow his trade policy instincts.”

Mützenich went on to explain patiently why building a new gas pipeline from Russia to Europe made economic sense for Germany, and contrasted Trump’s “intimidation attempts” to the more diplomatic approach from Ukraine, whose government has its own concerns about Nord Stream 2.

Ursula von der Leyen (Reuters/R. Krause)Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen pointed out the facts to Donald Trump

Read more: Opinion: A NATO summit in Trump’s parallel universe

Strengthening Merkel

It’s no secret that Trump and Merkel have a poor personal relationship, but German political analysts don’t think she is Trump’s real target. “He sees Germany as the entry point to try to crack the European Union,” said Josef Janning, head of the Berlin bureau of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). “Because if you want to crack a pack, you attack the alpha animal.”

But even if Trump succeeds in weakening the EU, Janning thinks it is having the opposite effect on Merkel herself – especially in the rift between herself and those on the right of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and the domestic forces who would like to see the end of the Merkel era. “Within her own government she is closing the ranks, very clearly,” he told DW. “When she is under obviously unfair attack from the outside, that will bring at least the mainstream together behind her.”

Watch video00:36

Merkel: ‘We know we need to do more, and we’ve been doing more for some time’

Janning argued that Trump’s stark overstatements, either on trade, or defense spending, or on Russia, might play well with voters supporting the fringes of the German political spectrum, but not with Merkel’s own CDU voters – even the more conservative ones.

Undermining the world order

But for other analysts, all this is beside the point. Claudia Major, senior researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), thinks the Germany criticism is just a sideshow. “It’s not about Merkel or Russia or energy or pipelines, or any of that,” she told DW.

“That’s just an excuse for Trump. For him it’s about completely undermining the multilateral trans-Atlantic order as we know it. And I think that the scale of the problem we have hasn’t yet been realized in Germany. If he valued NATO, and if he felt that its survival was important, he wouldn’t act this way.”

Read moreCan the trans-Atlantic relationship survive Donald Trump?

Major pointed out that Trump had taken up a different position to most of his European partners on nearly every major international issue, from the Iran nuclear deal to the Paris climate agreement, to moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. “Trump rejects the entire multilateral, rule-based architecture, like NATO, WTO, EU, which is based on solidarity,” she said. “What he wants is not alliances but deals.”

She also had little optimism about the apparent agreement on Thursday that NATO partners would raise their defense expenditure. “Do you think he’s going to be happy with two percent?” she asked. “The core function of NATO – as a defensive alliance – has already been enormously undermined by all this bickering. Even if he says now that 2 percent is great – the damage has been done.”

“I think he has Germany especially in his sights because Germany stands for everything he thinks is stupid,” Major added. “But at the end of the day, Germany is just the hook – it’s about much more.”

Watch video08:26

Why did Trump attack German-Russian energy links at NATO?

DW RECOMMENDS

After a war of words, Angela Merkel and Donald Trump make nice at NATO summit

After calling Germany a “captive” of Russia’s, President Donald Trump has now praised the US’s relationship with one of its most important strategic partners. Merkel cited her GDR childhood when rebuking the president.

    

Watch video00:21

‘Germany is totally controlled by Russia’

The NATO summit looked set for a rocky start on Wednesday, with Donald Trump earning a rebuke from Angela Merkel after claiming that Germany was “captive” to Russia for its concessions in pursuit ofa controversial gas pipeline deal. But, after a sit-down session with the chancellor, the US president was singing a revised tune, saying the bond between the increasingly uneasy allies was bigger — more “tremendous” even — than any differences between the leaders.

“We are having a great meeting,” Trump told reporters following his one-on-one with the chancellor. “We are discussing military expenditure, and we are talking about trade. We have a very, very good relationship.”

Merkel was more reserved with her assessment, saying the United States and Germany are “good partners, and we wish to continue cooperating in the future.”

In more official business at the summit on Wednesday, the alliance invited Macedonia to begin accession talks, after the Balkan nation resolved a long-running dispute with neighboring Greece, a NATO member that has a state with a similar name. Officials in Athens had successfully unilaterally blocked Macedonia’s candidacy for a decade. The new formal name for what the UN and EU officially label the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) still requires domestic political approval.

Read more:Aspiring NATO member Macedonia angles for membership invite in 2018

‘Germany is captive’

The dispute between Trump and Merkel started, as it often does with this US president, with an utterance.

“Germany is captive of Russia because it is getting so much of its energy from Russia,” Trump said, referring to Berlin’s Nord Stream 2 deal with Moscow. “They pay billions of dollars to Russia, and we have to defend them against Russia.”

Berlin hopes the 1,200-kilometer (750-mile) Baltic Sea pipeline will provide direct delivery of more than 55 billion cubic meters (2 trillion cubic feet) of Russian natural gas starting in late 2019.

Read more: US-German conflicts — what you need to know

Merkel cites childhood

The US and some East European countries have criticized the deal, fearing that it could make Germany overly reliant on Russia at a time of heightened diplomatic tensions between Moscow and NATO.

Watch video02:04

Does Trump have a point about NATO?

Speaking ahead of her one-on-one meeting with Trump, Merkel pushed back against the president’s characterization of Germany as subservient to Russian interests.

“I experienced, in person, that part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union,” Merkel, who grew up in Templin in the former East Germany (GDR), said. “I am very happy that today we are united in freedom … and that we can therefore also say that we conduct independent policies and can take independent decisions.”

Defense minister: Look at Germany’s output

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels that Germany was “used” to Trump’s criticisms and that the country could “cope” with his barbs.

She admitted that his criticism of Germany’s low spending on defense was fair, but appealed to his background as a businessman to consider the country’s defense contribution in a wider light.

Watch video08:13

Europe needs ‘strategic patience’

“I’d like to see the businessman Donald Trump not only look at the balance sheet, but at the output,” she said, adding that Germany contributed the second-highest number of troops to the alliance and has been its second-largest net contributor.

‘Appreciate your allies’

Trump’s stinging criticism of Germany came less than a day after he exchanged stern words with European Council President Donald Tusk over EU nations’ defense spending.

Shortly before arriving in Brussels, Trump slammed European NATO members for failing to meet the alliance target of spending at least 2 percent of GDP on defense.

“Many countries in NATO, which we are expected to defend, are not only short of their current commitment of 2 percent (which is low) but are also delinquent for many years in payments that have not been made. Will they reimburse the US?” he wrote on Twitter.

In Brussels, Tusk hit back at Trump for “criticizing Europe almost daily” and said the president should acknowledge that the EU is the US’s closest ally. “Dear America, appreciate your allies, after all you don’t have that many,” he said.

Donald Tusk

@eucopresident

Dear @realDonaldTrump. US doesn’t have and won’t have a better ally than EU. We spend on defense much more than Russia and as much as China. I hope you have no doubt this is an investment in our security, which cannot be said with confidence about Russian & Chinese spending 🙂

Read more: NATO in a nutshell: What you need to know

Tense talks ahead

The spat over defense spending is set to dominate the two-day meeting, where leaders are also expected to sign off on a new rapid reaction force, increased funding for Afghan security forces and an invitation for Macedonia to join the nearly 70-year-old alliance.

Only eight members of the 29-country bloc are expected to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense in 2018: the US, Estonia, Greece, Britain, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania. Germany’s defense spending is currently 1.24 percent of its GDP.

The meeting is also be taking place amid heightened tensions over US tariffs on European steel and aluminum imports and Trump’s withdrawal from a nuclear deal with Iran that many European countries are eager to save.

In a signal to European allies, the US Senate voted on Tuesday 97-2 in a nonbinding resolution in support of NATO.

Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, respectively the top Democrats in the House and Senate, issued a joint statement on Wednesday to take Trump to task for his comments: “President Trump’s brazen insults and denigration of one of America’s most steadfast allies, Germany, is an embarrassment.”

amp, mkg/msh (dpa, AFP, Reuters, AP)

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Iran announces plan to circumvent US oil sanctions

Tehran has vowed to ‘defeat’ attempts to curb its oil revenues by allowing private companies to export it. Iran also reminded Saudi Arabia that it was bound to an OPEC agreement to only boost exports collectively.

    
Offshore drilling facility in the Persian Gulf

Iran announced on Sunday that it would permit private companies to export crude oil as Tehran attempts to thwart US sanctions against the country’s oil industry. Iran also urged fellow OPEC nations, including rival Saudi Arabia, to stick toan agreement made last month to collectively boost output.

“We want to defeat America’s efforts…to stop Iran’s oil exports,” said First Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri in a televised statement. “The Iranian government has a plan.”

After the US withdrew from the Iranian nuclear deal in May, it said it would reimpose economic sanctions against Tehran by November.

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US calls on countries to stop importing Iranian oil

Trump: Riyadh promises to make up the difference

The announcement by Jahangiri came just a day after US President Donald Trump said that Saudi Arabia had agreed to increase its oil exports to make up the difference lost to the sanctions.

“Just spoke to King Salman of Saudi Arabia and explained to him that, because of the turmoil & dysfunction in Iran and Venezuela, I am asking that Saudi Arabia increase oil production, maybe up to 2,000,000 barrels, to make up the difference,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Jahangiri greeted Trump’s comments with derision, saying: “They’re begging the Saudis to raise their output so that if Iran’s quota decreases nothing will happen to the markets.”

At the same time, Iranian Oil Minister Bijhan Zanganeh reminded Riyadh that “any increase in the production by any member country beyond commitments stipulated in OPEC’s decisions … would constitute a breach of the agreement.”

Iran is among the nations with the highest oil serves, along with Saudi Arabia, which is the world’s leading exporter of oil.

es/ng (AFP, Reuters)

COURTESY: DW