‘Very much counter to the plan’: Trump defies advisers in embrace of Putin

Politics

President Trump appears with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a news conference after their meeting at the Presidential Palace. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
By Ashley ParkerJosh Dawsey and Carol D. LeonnigJuly 16 at 11:01 PMEmail the author
Administration officials had hoped that maybe, just maybe, Monday’s summit between President Trump and Russian President Vladmir Putin would end differently — without a freewheeling 46-minute news conferencein which Trump attacked his own FBI on foreign soil and warmly praised archrival Russia.

Ahead of the meeting, staffers provided Trump with some 100 pages of briefing materials aimed at laying out a tough posture toward Putin, but the president ignored most of it, according to one person familiar with the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose internal deliberations. Trump’s remarks were “very much counter to the plan,” the person said.

“Everyone around Trump” was urging him to take a firm stance with Putin, according to a second person familiar with the preparations. Before Monday’s meeting, the second person said, advisers covered matters from Russia’s annexation of Crimea to its interference in the U.S. elections, but Trump “made a game-time decision” to handle the summit his way.

“I think that the United States has been foolish,” Trump said at one point, referring to tensions with Russia. “I think we’ve all been foolish. We should’ve had this dialogue a long time ago; a long time, frankly, before I got to office.”

A senior White House official disputed the idea that the president acted unilaterally, and said he had numerous sessions with senior administration officials preparing for the summit in addition to briefing materials.

In the end, Trump’s performance alongside Putin in the Finnish capital seemed like a tour through his most controversial conspiracy theories, tweets and off-the-cuff musings on Russia — except he did it all while abroad, standing just feet from Putin, the leader of one of America’s greatest geopolitical foes.
 46:20

Watch Donald Trump’s full news conference with Vladimir Putin

Here are the full remarks and responses to questions from President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at a news conference on July 16 in Helsinki. (The Washington Post)
The spectacle in Helsinki also underscored Trump’s eagerness to disregard his own advisers, his willingness to flout the conclusions of his own intelligence community — that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections — and his apparent fear that pressing Putin on the subject might cast doubt on his electoral victory.

[Trump hands Putin a diplomatic triumph by casting doubt on U.S. intelligence agencies]

“The president has been more reluctant than most to weigh into the idea that Russia did it and they’re still doing it,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). “He felt that would undermine his own election.”

This account of the days leading up to Trump’s Helsinki summit is based on interviews with more than a half-dozen White House officials, advisers and diplomats, most of whom requested anonymity to reveal internal discussions.

Signs that things might not go according to plan were evident during the two days Trump spent holed up at his luxury seaside golf resort in Turnberry, Scotland.
 0:33

Trump’s warm interactions with Putin

At their summit in Helsinki on July 16, President Trump appeared to wink at Russian President Vladimir Putin at least twice. (Jenny Starrs /The Washington Post)
The president spent much of the weekend “growling,” in the words of one White House official, over the Justice Department’s indictment Friday of 12 Russian intelligence officials for interfering in the 2016 election. He fretted that the timing of the indictments was intended to injure him politically, the official said.

But a senior White House official said Trump had been in favor of announcing the indictments before the trip so he could raise the issue privately with Putin.

Trump also made it clear that he was more excited to sit down with the Russian president than he had been to visit with NATO allies earlier in the week in Brussels.

“He loved the summit with Kim Jong Un,” the White House official said, referring to the North Korean leader with whom Trump met last month in Singapore. “He thinks he can sit down eye to eye with these guys, flatter them and make a deal.”

In advance of the Putin meeting, White House officials repeatedly told European allies “not to worry,” according to diplomats familiar with the discussions. No deals would be made between Putin and Trump, they said, and no secret promises would be offered that could threaten the balance of power on the continent.

They also said the summit would have a declaration text that was short and generic.

[The Take: The moment called for Trump to stand up for America. He chose to bow.]

But the officials could not provide similar assurances about the summit’s live news conference, a setting where the president routinely defies the carefully laid plans of his White House team.

One European official acknowledged the difficulty of relying on the assurances of Trump’s aides, saying, “These people don’t control the reality.”

Putin almost seemed unable to hide his delight as Trump, standing just to his right, excoriated the FBI, Hillary Clinton and Democrats, among others, and said he held “both” Russia and the United States responsible for the declining relations between the two countries.

Trump had grown frustrated that his own government had been so negative about meeting with Putin and wanted a one-on-one meeting so it would not leak, aides said. One senior White House official described Trump’s public remarks as striking a deliberately “contrarian” tone.

Administration officials said Trump’s national security team — including national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — has generally urged him to be tough on Putin and to view the Russian leader through a far more negative prism than he does.

[Putin’s view triumphs in Helsinki]

Trump’s remarks in Helsinki were met with widespread condemnation, including from many within his own party.

Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats put out a statement distancing himself from Trump and his comments. “The role of the Intelligence Community is to provide the best information and fact-based assessments possible for the President and policymakers,” Coats said in the statement. “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”

As Trump flew back to Washington aboard Air Force One late Monday, he and his team struggled to quell the outcry.

“President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin,” tweeted Newt Gingrich, a steadfast Trump ally and former Republican House speaker, whose wife Trump appointed ambassador to the Vatican. “It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected — immediately.”

Trump issued a tweet that seemed to backtrack slightly. “As I said today and many times before, ‘I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people,’ ” he wrote. “However, I also recognize that to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past — as the world’s two largest nuclear ­powers, we must get along! #HELSINKI2018.”

And others rushed to Trump’s defense. Barry Bennett, a former Trump campaign adviser, downplayed the controversy.

“I didn’t think Trump was going to call him a liar to his face after he denied it,” Bennett said. “I don’t think it makes sense to stand six feet from him and call him a liar.”

One of Trump’s most vocal defenders was Vice President Pence, who has cemented his relationship with the president through unflinching loyalty.

In a speech to Commerce Department employees Monday afternoon, Pence offered a rosy review of what he described as Trump’s “historic trip” abroad.

“The truth is, over the last week, the world saw once again that President Donald Trump stands without apology as leader of the free world,” Pence said. “. . . What the world saw, what the American people saw, is that President Donald Trump will always put the prosperity and security of America first.”

John Hudson and Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.
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Comments

Ashley ParkerAshley Parker is a White House reporter for The Washington Post. She joined The Post in 2017, after 11 years at the New York Times, where she covered the 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns and Congress, among other things. Follow 

Josh DawseyJosh Dawsey is a White House reporter for The Washington Post. He joined the paper in 2017. He previously covered the White House for Politico, and New York City Hall and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for the Wall Street Journal. Follow 

Carol LeonnigCarol Leonnig is an investigative reporter at The Washington Post, where she has worked since 2000. She won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for her work on security failures and misconduct inside the Secret Service. Follow 

COURTESY: TWP

Trump-Putin Summit Eases Russia’s Isolation While Posing New Risks

Leaders to hold their first extensive meeting with a host of high-stakes topics to discuss, from Syria to Ukraine to U.S. election meddling

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met briefly in Vietnam last year during a regional summit. They will have their first extended one-on-one session on Monday.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met briefly in Vietnam last year during a regional summit. They will have their first extended one-on-one session on Monday. PHOTO: JORGE SILVA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

HELSINKI—President Donald Trump’s summit with President Vladimir Putin  on Monday to discuss international security issues will mark a symbolic end to the American effort to isolate Russia after its 2014 annexation of Crimea.

The question is: What will the U.S. get in return?

The meeting comes three days after Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted a dozen Russian intelligence officers on charges of hacking into servers of the Democratic Party and a state election board, bringing the issue of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election to the fore.

Mr. Trump brushed aside the indictments in a tweet on Saturday, saying “the stories you heard about 12 Russians yesterday took place during the Obama administration,” which he alleged didn’t act strongly enough against Moscow.

For Mr. Trump, the summit will be his first extensive one-on-one meeting with a leader he described last week as a “competitor” and potential friend. Most North Atlantic Treaty Organization members see Mr. Putin as a determined foe who seeks to undermine the alliance.

Helsinki will provide another opportunity to test Mr. Trump’s highly personal and freewheeling style of diplomacy following his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore last month. But it is rife with potential pitfalls.

“It is clear that the U.S. is now engaging Russia, but what is the quality of that engagement?” said Thomas Graham, a former U.S. diplomat who served in Russia and is now a managing director at Kissinger Associates, Inc. “I think it is going to continue to be a very troubled relationship.”

Any U.S. concession, Mr. Trump’s critics will hasten to say, will come in talks with an adversary who U.S. intelligence agencies say tried to help him win the presidential election. The Helsinki agenda also includes an array of vexing issues.

The talks will include Syria, where the White House has signaled it will seek Russia’s help in scaling back Iran’s role, and Ukraine, where efforts to persuade Moscow to reverse its occupation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine have failed.

Arms control is also up for discussion. Mr. Trump said Friday that nuclear weapons are the “biggest problem in the world.” But the Helsinki summit hasn’t been preceded by the months of lower-level negotiating sessions that have preceded major breakthroughs on nuclear issues before.

The two leaders will discuss whether to extend the New START treaty, which expires in 2021, and U.S. allegations that Russia violated the 1987 treaty on intermediate-range nuclear forces, Mr. Trump indicated.

The two side could also revive the “strategic stability” talks that Russia broke off earlier this year. These discussions give each side a chance to ask questions about the other’s nuclear doctrine and military programs with the aim of reducing the risk of miscalculation that could lead to war.

What to Know About the Russia Indictment

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced charges Friday against 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking the 2016 presidential election. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains. Photo: Getty

The policy details, however, will be overshadowed by the meeting itself, which is being held at the Presidential Palace, the same site where former President  George H.W. Bush met with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990 on the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The rendezvous follows Mr. Trump’s summit with Mr. Kim that showcased Mr. Trump’s conviction that he can overcome decades of mistrust by establishing a personal rapport. That encounter has yet to yield the U.S. goal of a denuclearization agreement.

This time, the meeting follows a NATO summit in which Mr. Trump sparred with the U.S.’s closest allies over military spending. At a NATO leaders’ dinner Wednesday evening, allies told Mr. Trump that talks with Mr. Putin could be useful, but urged the president to stress the importance of an international rules-based order, a diplomat said.

For Mr. Putin, the summit itself is an accomplishment. The Russian leader has long sought to be treated as an equal partner and to demonstrate his nation’s importance on the international stage.

“The fact that President Trump is willing to sit down with Putin and is likely to say positive things about him, is a great achievement for Vladimir Putin,” said Michael McFaul, who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia under Mr. Obama. “It means that the process of normalization is happening and [Putin] has had to do absolutely nothing to achieve that.”

Russia also has more specific goals. For one, Mr. Putin wants NATO to halt military exercises near its border. Mr. Trump said Thursday that might be open for discussion. Russia also wants the withdrawal of U.S. troops and antimissile defenses from Europe.

Part of Mr. Trump’s meeting with Mr. Putin will be alone. He has been reluctant to include a note taker because he is wary of leaks, said a foreign official briefed on the plans. The two leaders will then be joined by senior officials on both sides, followed by a press conference. Mr. Putin is scheduled to be interviewed on Monday by Fox News.

Mr. Trump has faced calls from some Democrats to ensure U.S. officials join him for all of his meetings with Mr. Putin and to cancel the summit outright if Russian election meddling isn’t the main order of business.

Mr. Trump said he would raise the subject with Mr. Putin, but suggested he wouldn’t press too hard. “All I can do is say, ’Did you’ and ’Don’t do it again,’” the president said last week. Those comments came after Mr. Trump was briefed on the coming indictments.

Nor are there any signs Moscow will try to make amends: Russia’s Foreign Ministry has already denounced the indictments as a “canard.”

Risks for Mr. Trump also lie in his discussion of regional issues, according to one former Trump adviser, who said the president has an exaggerated view of Russia’s geopolitical influence and might make concessions accordingly.

“He’d like to imagine Russia as more than it is,” the former adviser said.

Syria is one such area. U.S. national security adviser John Bolton has signaled that the administration wants Russia’s help in getting Iran’s forces to leave. He said the White House no longer sees the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Moscow, as a priority.

Most experts doubt Russia has the influence to dislodge Iran and the Shiite militias Tehran backs from Syria. Moreover, Moscow has recently carried out airstrikes for the Assad regime’s forces—attacks the U.S. has condemned as a violation of cease-fire arrangements.

“By providing air cover to successful Syrian army offensives that have made significant gains, Russia has increased its leverage for any discussions between the American and Russian presidents,” said Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and Harvard University’s Belfer Center.

Few experts believe Mr. Trump will make diplomatic progress over Ukraine. Russia appears to be playing a waiting game until next year’s presidential election in Ukraine and Mr. Trump’s position has often been erratic.

Mr. McFaul, now a political-science professor at Stanford University, said Mr. Putin wants the U.S. “to agree to disagree on Crimea.”

Write to Michael R. Gordon at michael.gordon@wsj.com and Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com

COURTESY: WSJ

 

Trump Affirms Support for May, U.K. Trade Deal Following Tensions Over Brexit

Leaders meet after president delivered a stinging rebuke in British newspaper interview

Trump Softens Critical Comments About U.K. Prime Minister

Donald Trump and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said they are committed to a post-Brexit trade deal, despite the U.S. president’s earlier criticism of her handling of the U.K.’s Brexit process. Mr. Trump’s visit was met with protests in London. Photo: Getty Images

ELLESBOROUGH, England—President Donald Trump affirmed his commitment to striking a trade deal with the U.K., seeking to walk back earlier comments in which he criticized Prime Minister Theresa May’s approach to Brexit and said her plan would “kill” the chances of such a deal.

His softening of his criticism saved Mrs. May some embarrassment at a perilous time for the British leader, as she struggles to hold together a government riven by her plan to closely follow European Union regulations.

But the president, whose visit drew thousands of protesters in London and other places in the country, didn’t back off other comments, made in an interview with a British tabloid, that implicitly criticized Mrs. May. Brexit hard-liners continued to insist his comments would add pressure on Mrs. May to harden her stance in negotiations with the EU. ​

At a joint news conference Friday, Mrs. May said she and Mr. Trump had agreed to pursue an “ambitious” trade deal between the two nations that “works for both countries right across the economies.”

Mr. Trump also said he was open to pursuing a deal once the U.K. leaves the European Union. He signaled an openness to Mrs. May’s approach to Brexit. “I don’t know what you’re going to do, but whatever you do is OK with me,” he said. “That’s your decision.” He said the relationship between the two countries has “never been stronger.”

The exchange was sharply at odds with his interview with the Sun, published late Thursday, in which he said also praised former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who quit the government this week over Brexit. After the interview was published, Mr. Trump said, he told Mrs. May: “I wanted to apologize.” He said she responded: “Don’t worry, it’s only the press.”

The apology was a rare concession for the president, who in the face of criticism is more apt to double down than to walk back his comments, and who often instructs aides to never apologize for their actions.

It also helped to mend the strained relationship between the two leaders. Mrs. May is seeking to strengthen ties with the U.S. as the U.K. turns away from the EU. Mr. Trump is one of the few world leaders who supported Brexit.

Earlier in the day, the two leaders viewed a joint military demonstration by U.S. and U.K. forces and met at Chequers, the U.K. prime minister’s official country house, for a working lunch. Mr. Trump and first lady Melania Trump later traveled to Windsor Castle to meet Queen Elizabeth II, where the queen and the president inspected the Guard of Honour and had tea. In the evening, the couple left for Scotland to stay at one of Mr. Trump’s golf courses for the weekend, before his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday.

The U.S. leader, who was repeatedly questioned by reporters about why he was critical of the prime minister while on U.K. soil, spent much of the news conference heaping praise on Mrs. May, describing her as a “tough” negotiator and calling their relationship “the highest level of special.” While seeking to project unity, the leaders offered divergent views on the value of immigration in Europe. “It’s been very bad for Europe,” Mr. Trump said.

The president arrived in London on Thursday after a contentious North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Brussels, and the extravagant gala dinner hosted by Mrs. May at Blenheim Palace was expected to be a more mellow event. But the evening was upended by the Sun’s interview, published shortly after Mr. Trump departed the dinner.

Mr. Trump on Friday said the Sun didn’t include the positive things he said about the embattled British leader and called the reporting “fake news,” but he reiterated that Mrs. May should take his advice on how to best negotiate with the EU. The Sun posted extensive audio excerpts on its web site but not the full interview.

Downing Street didn’t comment on the interview, but officials and diplomats said they were surprised and angered by the move. The Sun and The Wall Street Journal are both owned by News Corp.


Trump Visits the U.K.: Photos

The president sought to project unity with Prime Minister Theresa May after criticizing her approach to Brexit, and following a tense NATO summit

 President Trump, second right, and NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, left, talk during a Wednesday NATO breakfast. On the first day, Mr. Trump pressed allies to double their military spending target to 4% of GDP, while questioning NATO’s value and bashing Germany for supporting a gas deal with Russia.
 President Donald Trump meets Queen Elizabeth II as he and first lady Melania Trump arrive for a welcome ceremony at Windsor Castle on Friday.
 The queen, President Trump and the first lady face an honor guard at Windsor Castle.
 The queen and President Trump inspect the Coldstream Guards during the president’s visit to Windsor Castle.
 President Trump and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May hold a joint news conference at Chequers, the prime minister’s country residence in southern England. on Friday.
 President Trump with Prime Minister May prior to the news conference at Chequers.
 First lady Melania Trump and Philip May, the husband of Prime Minister May, stand with schoolchildren during a visit to British military veterans at the Royal Hospital Chelsea in central London on Friday.
 Protesters with a balloon depicting President Trump as an orange baby at Parliament Square in London on Friday.
 Melania Trump, center, tries her hand at lawn bowling during a visit to the Royal Hospital Chelsea on Friday.
 President Trump and the first lady, at left, with Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband, Philip, ahead of a dinner with business leaders at Blenheim Palace on Thursday.
 British Prime Minister Theresa May, at right, accompanied President Donald Trump, as their spouses, Philip May and Melania Trump, followed them into Blenheim Palace, near Oxford.
 President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump step off Air Force One as they arrive at London's Stansted Airport on Thursday, after leaving the at-times tense NATO summit in Brussels.
 A member of security detail snaps a photo as Air Force One taxis on the tarmac at London Stansted Airport on Thursday. After leaving the NATO summit, President Trump is expected to avoid London as much as possible during his U.K. visit because of protesters.
 President Trump was joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and National Security Adviser John Bolton, right, as he addressed an impromptu news conference after the second day of the NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday.
 British Prime Minister Theresa May, center, and President Trump stand together as they gather for a group photo during the two-day NATO summit in Brussels Wednesday.
 Emmanuel Macron, right, President Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, among other heads of state, at the NATO summit. Mr. Macron said the allies reconfirmed what they had already pledged in recent years, to increase their defense spending to 2% by 2024.
 German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, and President Trump met for bilateral talks at the NATO Summit on Wednesday. The following day, Mrs. Merkel told reporters after an emergency NATO session that it had been a ‘very intense summit’ with ‘very serious discussions.’
 Heads of state and government watch a fly-by of NATO aircraft at the opening ceremony at the 2018 NATO Summit at NATO headquarters on Wednesday in Brussels. From left to right, first row: Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, U.S. President Donald Trump, and British Prime Minister Theresa May.
 President Trump and other NATO leaders at the summit in Brussels.
President Donald Trump meets Queen Elizabeth II as he and first lady Melania Trump arrive for a welcome ceremony at Windsor Castle on Friday.
CHRIS JACKSON/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
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The president’s comment that Mrs. May’s Brexit plan would “probably end a major trade relationship with the United States” came after Woody Johnson, the U.S. ambassador to the U.K., last week described the president as eager to strike a trade deal between the two nations. “He’s really ready to step up on that the minute we get the go-ahead to do it,” Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Trump largely traveled by helicopter on his visit, avoiding central London where protesters on Friday inflated a balloon depicting Mr. Trump as an orange baby outside the Houses of Parliament. Tens of thousands of protesters marched against the president in London in the afternoon, and others held demonstrations outside Chequers and Windsor Castle and in other parts of the U.K.

In the Sun interview, Mr. Trump said he had been made to feel “unwelcome” by the protests. “I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London,” he said.

One protester in London, Alex Belcher, a 19-year-old student from Essex, said that he understood the U.K. needed to do a trade deal with the U.S., but that there is a limit to the welcome the U.K. should show him. “Rolling out the red carpet like this for someone who has done so many bad things—it’s laughable,” Mr. Belcher said.

Nigel Farage, one of the leaders of the Brexit movement and an ally of Mr. Trump, said Mr. Trump’s comments to the Sun are likely to add pressure on Mrs. May to change course.

“Middle England has been very angry over the past week about what they see as May’s betrayal,” said Nigel Farage, one of the leaders of the Brexit movement.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com and Jenny Gross at jenny.gross@wsj.com

Appeared in the July 14, 2018, print edition as ‘Trump Affirms Support for May.’

COURTESY: WSJ

Trump blasts Prime Minister Theresa May in interview published during his first official visit to Britain


British Prime Minister Theresa May greets President Trump before a dinner at Blenheim Palace on Thursday. (Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)

 After Prime Minister Theresa May rolled out the red carpet at Blenheim Palace on Thursday night for President Trump’s first official visit to Britain, a London tabloid published an explosive interview in which Trump blasted May’s compromise, pro-business plan to leave the European Union and warned that her approach could imperil any future trade deal between the United States and Britain.

The remarks cast an immediate pall over a visit that included a lavish dinner with business leaders Thursday night and plans to meet Queen Elizabeth II for afternoon tea on Friday. It was the latest international incident to erupt during Trump’s brief sojourn abroad, which kicked off with incendiary comments that upended a NATO summit in Brussels and further strained relationships with longtime U.S. allies.

In addition to attacking May on Brexit, Trump also praised her archrival, Boris Johnson, as a potential future prime minister while attacking London’s mayor as soft on crime and terrorism.

The blunt language and harsh dismissal in Trump’s interview stunned 10 Downing Street.

May’s office did not issue a reply to Trump’s remarks but referred reporters to an earlier statement: “We have come to an agreement at the proposal we’re putting to the European Union which absolutely delivers on the Brexit people voted for. They voted for us to take back control of our money, our law and our borders and that’s exactly what we will do.”

Newspaper editors scrambled to update their front pages. “The ego has landed,” said the Daily Mirror, adding that Trump “embarrasses Prime Minister with attack on her plan for soft Brexit.” On its front page, the Daily Mail said Trump had offered “typically blunt home truths for Britain.”

 0:58
May defends Brexit policy after Trump casts doubt

Responding to President Trump’s remarks on Brexit on the morning of July 12, British Prime Minister Theresa May defended her proposal. 

In the interview, done earlier this week, Trump disparaged May’s Brexit plan: “I would have done it much differently. I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn’t listen to me.”

He added: “The deal she is striking is a much different deal than the one people voted on.”

If May has Britain align its rules and regulations for goods and agricultural products with Europe, following “a common ­rule book” with Brussels, as May puts it, then, Trump said, that could derail a trade deal with Washington.

“If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the U.K., so it will probably kill the deal,” Trump told the Sun, which published its splash at 11 p.m. in Britain.

Trump was scheduled to meet with May for talks on Friday.


Activists inflate a giant balloon depicting President Trump as an orange baby ahead of protests in London. (Isabel Infantes/AFP/Getty Images)

“The President likes and respects Prime Minister May very much. As he said in his interview with the Sun she ‘is a very good person’ and he ‘never said anything bad about her,’ ” U.S. press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “He thought she was great on NATO today and is a really terrific person.”

The U.S. contingent expected the story to post Friday morning and was startled to leave the dinner Thursday and see it online. Sanders told the British government about the interview but thought it would be somewhat more positive, an official said.

White House officials were scrambling for what to say to May on Friday. “There’s no way Trump will apologize,” a senior U.S. official said. “But we also don’t want to blow everything up.”

A second White House official said Trump had two days of positive interactions with May. But the official also conceded that Trump had talked about her vulnerabilities and criticized her political acumen privately for many months.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations.

Trump also said to the Sun that he was not spending much time in London on this trip because he did not feel welcome, due to mass demonstrations planned for Friday.

“I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London,” he told the paper. “I used to love London as a city. I haven’t been there in a long time. But when they make you feel unwelcome, why would I stay there?”

Trump lashed out at London Mayor Sadiq Khan, too, saying that he’s done a “bad job” on tackling terrorism and crime.

“Take a look at the terrorism that is taking place. Look at what is going on in London. I think he has done a very bad job on terrorism,” Trump said. “I think he has done a bad job on crime, if you look, all of the horrible things going on there, with all of the crime that is being brought in.”

But he spoke glowingly of Johnson, who quit the cabinet this week in protest over May’s plans for a soft Brexit.

“I have a lot of respect for Boris. He obviously likes me and says very good things about me,” Trump told the tabloid. “I was very saddened to see he was leaving government, and I hope he goes back in at some point. I think he is a great representative for your country.”

Asked whether Johnson could find himself in 10 Downing Street one day, Trump said, “Well I am not pitting one against the other. I am just saying I think he would be a great prime minister. I think he’s got what it takes.”

Trump did not have public events in Britain on Thursday. Planners have taken great care to keep him from protests.

After his trips overseas to Asia and the Middle East, Trump went on for days about the grandiose treatment — and the Brits were clearly trying to do well by him.

At the dinner, in her remarks, May made her pitch to Trump. She began by noting that “Sir Winston Churchill once said that ‘to have the United States at our side was, to me, the greatest joy.’ ”

Then she moved to the deals she hoped to strike. “Now, as we prepare to leave the European Union, we have an unprecedented opportunity to do more. It’s an opportunity to reach a free trade agreement that creates jobs and growth here in the U.K. and right across the United States,” she said.

The prime minister said that Brexit offered the chance “to tear down the bureaucratic barriers that frustrate business leaders on both sides of the Atlantic,” according to an account provided by 10 Downing Street.

An hour later, the interview with the Sun appeared and seemed to dash May’s hopes.

Brian Klaas, a fellow in global politics at the London School of Economics, said May is walking a tightrope. She needs Trump to promise fantastic trade deals and help May deliver the “global Britain” she has promised. But she can’t appear fawning.

“Her political base and the broader British public do not like Donald Trump,” Klaas said. “She also wants to show that in a post-Brexit world, Britain can still be a major player, and Trump is central to that narrative.”

Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, a London think tank, said that for May, the Trump visit “was something to be survived.”

Recalling the disaster that struck British leader Tony Blair, in his embrace of George W. Bush and his alliance with Washington in the Iraq War, Niblett said May would be extremely wary of being seen as “Trump’s poodle.”

Organizers of Britain’s nationwide protests are committed to staging some of the largest demonstrations since 2003, when hundreds of thousands hit the streets to oppose war in Iraq.

Organizers said that from the moment Trump landed on British soil to the moment he leaves, he will be met by a “carnival of resistance.” A giant “Trump Baby” balloon will fly over Parliament Square. Protesters plan to shout at Trump at places he will be visiting — Winfield House, Blenheim Palace, Chequers, Windsor Castle and his Trump Turnberry golf resort in Scotland. Others will assemble in  towns and cities up and down the country.

“I’m marching because of the disdain that Trump has shown for Britain and because of his disgraceful treatment of minorities in the United States,” said David Lammy, a leading member in the opposition Labour Party.

“Whenever London experiences a tragedy, it’s also the case that Trump licks his lips and tweets,” he said.

Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.

The elite world of Brett Kavanaugh

 2:02
Meet Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee

President Trump announced July 9 that Brett M. Kavanaugh will be the Supreme Court nominee to fill Justice Kennedy’s vacant seat. 

The Chevy Chase Lounge is a neighborhood joint where bartender Tim Higgins is accustomed to bantering with long-standing patrons, including a middle-aged guy named Brett who likes to pop in for a Budweiser and a burger after coaching his daughters’ basketball games.

As he watched the news recently, Higgins learned something else about Brett Kavanaugh: He was among the judges whom President Trump was considering to nominate to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Most people in Washington tell you what they do,” Higgins said from behind the bar Tuesday, the day after Trump nominated Kavanaugh. “I never knew Brett was a lawyer. I expect we’ll be seeing him in here a lot less.”

Washington is a city rife with stars of politics, government and the judiciary, many of them migrating to the nation’s capital after growing up and establishing their reputations in far-flung realms.

Yet Kavanaugh is that rare high-profile appointee who is pure Washington, a product of its most prestigious addresses: the all-boys Georgetown Preparatory School, where he was taught by Jesuits before attending Yale; the White House, where he was deputy counsel to President George W. Bush; and the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Roman Catholic parish just off Chevy Chase Circle, where he and his family attend services.


Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s home in Chevy Chase, Md. (Paul Schwartzman/The Washington Post)

For more than a decade, Kavanaugh and his wife, Ashley, whom he met when she was Bush’s personal secretary in the White House, have lived on the Maryland side of Chevy Chase, an enclave at the center of establishment Washington, with streets lined with million-dollar homes, most of them inhabited by accomplished Democrats.

Yet, at a time when the country is defined by its polarized politics, Kavanaugh’s deep Republican ties — he drew up the grounds for impeaching President Bill Clinton and was part of the legal team that handed Bush the presidency — have not stopped him from blending in with his neighbors. Their comity evokes an earlier era when the two parties could socialize even as they fought ferociously over policy.

Politics is not what comes up when Ashley Kavanaugh, the town manager for their section of Chevy Chase, organizes their neighborhood’s Fourth of July parade, a procession that lasts for all of two blocks and ends with a barbecue.

Her husband, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, has been known to help direct traffic at the parade, ready to banter with neighbors about the Washington Nationals, whose games he regularly attends.

Nor does politics arise when Kavanaugh attends 5:30 p.m. Mass on Sundays at Blessed Sacrament, sometimes accompanied by his two daughters, still in the basketball uniforms they wore to games they played — and he coached — that day.

The church has long been the parish for a diverse array of the area’s Catholic elite, from liberal giants such as the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews to conservatives such as Pat Buchanan and William Bennett.

“It doesn’t matter what their affiliation is, they want to know Jesus Christ, and that’s why they’re here,” said the Rev. William Foley, the church’s pastor, who has his own connections to official Washington: His father served a director of the administrative offices of the U.S. courts under Chief Justice Warren E. Burger.


The Rev. William Foley at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Roman Catholic church in Chevy Chase that Kavanaugh and his family attend. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

Mark Shields, a liberal commentator who serves as an usher at the church, said that what makes the parish “very special” is the way clerical leadership has focused people on service “to those who are less blessed than we are.”

“We don’t give litmus tests. There’s just an assumption that you believe the values and teachings of Christ,” he said. “I’ve never seen anyone act like: ‘How can you be here? You’re a baby killer!’ to those who voted for John F. Kerry, or someone saying someone else is anti-immigrant. It’s trying to find out what we have in common rather than applying a litmus test to everyone who comes in the door.”

Still, Monsignor John Enzler, now president and CEO of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Washington, said he avoided certain subjects when he was a priest at Blessed Sacrament from 2010 to 2014.

“I admit I was careful because you don’t want to set people off. On the other hand, on immigration, I’d definitely speak about that strongly, no matter what,” Enzler said. He said one of the current priests at Blessed Sacrament preaches often on immigration.

Chevy Chase, where the Kavanaughs have lived since 2006, is one of Washington’s most coveted neighborhoods, where the median household income was $146,547 in 2016, according to the most recent census data, and where homes routinely sell for $2 million and $3 million. The Kavanaughs paid $1.2 million for their four-bedroom house, which is nearly 100 years old and is on a street lined with thick trees and lush lawns. At the curb in front of their house on Tuesday was a basketball hoop. An American flag hung outside the entrance.

Gregory Chernack, a Democrat and lawyer who lives around the corner, said he was aware of Kavanaugh’s conservatism but has never had any interest in talking politics with him.

“If I talk to Brett, it’s either about baseball or Springsteen,” said Chernack, who is chairman of the town council for their neighborhood, known as the Village of Chevy Chase, Section 5. “He’s no different than any dad in the neighborhood.”

“I know there are things we disagree on, based on what I’ve read,” Chernack said. “But I also know how eminently qualified he is to do this. He’s the type of Republican you would want the Republicans to nominate.”

Kavanaugh’s wife is the village’s town manager, a job she performs mostly from home at a salary of $66,000. “She is the antithesis of the name-dropper,” Chernack said. “And she doesn’t talk about what her husband does. If I didn’t know it independently, I would never know it.”

The Kavanaughs met in a decidedly Washington way — while both worked at the White House. Their first date was Sept. 10, 2001, the judge said in his speech Monday after Trump announced him as his nominee.

“The next morning,” Kavanaugh recalled, “I was a few steps behind her as the Secret Service shouted at all of us to sprint out the front gates of the White House because there was an inbound plane.”

Sports, not politics

When Kavanaugh was born, his parents lived in the District. His father, E. Edward Kavanaugh, 77, held one of those only-in-Washington titles — president of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association. In the recesses of C-SPAN’s video archive, the elder Kavanaugh can be found testifying in 1983 before Congress about his industry.

Kavanaugh’s mother, Martha, 76, taught history at two D.C. public schools, H.D. Woodson and McKinley Tech. She went to law school, graduated from American University in 1978 and became a prosecutor in Montgomery County, Md., and then a circuit court judge.

“The president introduced me tonight as Judge Kavanaugh. But to me that title will always belong to my mom,” Kavanaugh said during his remarks Monday. “When I was 10, she went to law school and became a prosecutor. My introduction to law came at our dinner table when she practiced her closing arguments. Her trademark line was: ‘Use your common sense. What rings true? What rings false?’ ”


The campus of Georgetown Preparatory School in Bethesda, Md. (Georgetown Prep)

As a boy, Kavanaugh and his parents attended Little Flower Parish in Bethesda, a large congregation where Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and his family now go. Until high school, Kavanaugh went to Mater Dei, a Bethesda-based Catholic prep school with the motto, “Work hard, play hard, pray hard, but most of all be a good guy!”

The students mostly came from Montgomery County, but the school was intent on teaching them how to get around the city, devoting a week to trips aboard Metro to landmarks such as Smithsonian museums and the Capitol. “Solid, solid, solid,” said Chris Abell, a former Mater Dei teacher, describing Kavanaugh. “He was a stick-to-it kind of guy. Got his work done. He was about as solid as they came.”

As a youngster, Kavanaugh was immersed in the area’s Catholic community, friendly with boys enrolled at schools such as Holy Name and Gonzaga College High School while he was at Georgetown Prep. He and his friends went to Redskins games at RFK Stadium and up to Baltimore for Orioles games.

When they were old enough, they went to bars — Garrett’s and the Third Edition in Georgetown, said Kavanaugh’s childhood friend Scott McCaleb.

In Kavanaugh’s Georgetown Prep yearbook, he listed himself as the treasurer of the “Keg City Club — 100 Kegs or Bust” and included references to the “Beach Week Ralph Club” and “Rehoboth Police Fan Club.”

But McCaleb said that Kavanaugh was studious, earning good enough grades to attend Yale University and then Yale Law School.

“He was always kind of like an old soul,” McCaleb said. “He was more mature than the rest of us. He was always the guy who was going home to do his homework.”

His reputation for rigor endured into adulthood as Kavanaugh built a résumé brimming with elite Washington titles: clerk for Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, whom he will replace if confirmed; associate counsel for Kenneth W. Starr during Starr’s Clinton investigation; a counsel and staff secretary to Bush, and appeals court judge.

For all of Kavanaugh’s accomplishments, though, his friends say that he has remained steadfast in his commitment to coaching basketball at Blessed Sacrament, his daughters’ school, where he is known as “Coach K.” His team of sixth-graders was undefeated last season and won a citywide championship in the local Catholic youth league.

Kavanaugh would even attend games at another school, Georgetown Visitation, just because he admired the school’s coach.

“I’d show up for a game, and one of the only other people in the stands would be Brett Kavanaugh,” said Tom Conaghan, a lawyer whose daughter played for Kavanaugh at one point. “He’s a quiet coach — you can’t hear him from the other side of the court. He’s very big on teaching the fundamentals of the game.”


Pete Gouskos, right, owner of the Chevy Chase Lounge, and bartender Tim Higgins, left, talk about Kavanaugh, one of their regular customers. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

After games, Kavanaugh sometimes goes with fellow coaches to the Chevy Chase Lounge. On Monday, a group of his friends gathered beneath the television to watch Trump announce his new nominee.

Peter Gouskos, the owner, said he plans to add a photograph of Kavanaugh to a display of well-known patrons, including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, CNN journalist Jake Tapper, and Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri.

Gouskos is pleased for Kavanaugh but promises that when he sees the judge in the future, he will stick to the usual subjects: sports, sports and more sports.

“I’m a Democrat,” the owner said. “I never discuss politics with my customers.”

Ann Marimow and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.

Trump berates NATO allies and then asks them to double their defense spending goals

 0:55
Trump says Germany is ‘captive’ to Russia after pipeline deal

President Trump slammed Germany on July 11, over a gas pipeline deal with Russia. He said the country is now “captive to Russia.” 

 President Trump ripped into NATO allies Wednesday, slamming Germany for its dependence on Russian energy and demanding that nations double their military spending commitments.

European diplomats have been worried about continued U.S. support for NATO. But even as Trump hit allies, he also signed on to efforts to strengthen the alliance against the Kremlin and other rivals, as well as a statement that the alliance does not accept Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

On spending, Trump insisted in a closed-door meeting of NATO leaders that the alliance increase its defense targets to 4 percent of each country’s gross domestic product — more than what the United States channels toward its military. It was not clear whether he was serious about a new standard or whether he was using the number as a negotiating tactic to edge overall spending higher and get European nations to pay more.

The push came hours after Trump bashed Germany for “being captive to Russia” because it imports much of its natural gas from there. That tirade, over breakfast with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, was rare in its bitterness.

“We have to talk about the billions and billions of dollars that’s being paid to the country we’re supposed to be protecting you against,” Trump said, referring to European purchases of Russian natural gas.

 2:28
Stoltenberg on defense spending: Let’s get to 2 percent

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg answered questions about defense spending July 11, after President Trump urged NATO leaders to increase commitments. 

Despite the contentiousness, Trump agreed to a 23-page declaration that Stoltenberg said would guide a more robust NATO defense for years to come. Other NATO leaders welcomed the decision, even as they said Trump’s divisive approach to his allies weakened the alliance.

Stoltenberg sought to project unity at the conclusion of the first of two days of meetings in Brussels.

“We do have disagreements, but most importantly, we have decisions that are pushing this alliance forward and making us stronger,” Stoltenberg said. “At the end of the day, we all agree that North America and Europe are safer together.”

NATO leaders are still concerned that Trump will make concessions to Russian President Vladimir Putin when the two meet on Monday in Helsinki.

Trump has complained bitterly about Europe’s lagging defense spending, saying that NATO nations are taking advantage of U.S. military largesse at the same time they are offering unfair trade terms to U.S. businesses.

Only eight of 29 NATO countries are on track to meet pledges of spending 2 percent of their GDPs on defense this year. Washington spent 3.6 percent last year. When he has talked about it in recent days, Trump has rounded up to 4 percent. And after Wednesday’s meeting, he tweeted with a demand for countries to meet the current 2 percent target.


Front row from left, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, President Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May attend the opening ceremony at the 2018 NATO Summit in Brussels. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

“President Trump wants to see our allies share more of the burden and at a very minimum meet their already stated obligations,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

Several NATO experts dismissed the seriousness of the 4 percent proposal.

“No country in the world can meet that,” said Bobo Lo, a Russia scholar who attended the summit. “He’s asking for something outrageous, not in the hope of getting it, but in getting to 2 percent or more.”

An official present when Trump made the demand said that “the room was aghast,” even though Trump was actually more cordial in private than in his public remarks. The official, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private proceedings.

A favorite target of Trump’s ire has been Germany, which has not met its NATO spending commitments and has granted permits for a second natural gas pipeline to Russia. Germany and other European NATO partners argue, however, that they have boosted their contributions to the military alliance and plan to kick in more in coming years. Germany’s leadership has said the pipeline is a private business decision, and it has been reluctant to interfere.

The accusation of Russian influence may have been particularly biting for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in Communist-controlled East Germany.

“I myself experienced a part of Germany that was controlled by the Soviet Union, and I am very happy today that we are united in freedom as the Federal Republic of Germany,” Merkel told reporters as she entered NATO headquarters. “We decide our own policies and make our own decisions.”

Inside the closed-door meeting, she went further in her pushback, according to two officials who were present. In firm, unemotional language, Merkel told the other 28 leaders how Putin once served as a KGB officer and spy in her own country, making clear that she had little tolerance for being told her nation was controlled by the Kremlin.

Trump traveled to Europe saying that next week’s summit with Putin may be the easiest part of his week of diplomacy — an unusual assertion, challenging the notion that NATO should project a strong and united front against a strategic rival.

Trump has preferred to take aim at allies.

 0:38
Trump: ‘We have a tremendous relationship with Germany’

President Trump beside German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Brussels on July 11. Earlier in the day, Trump accused Germany of being “captive to Russia.” 

Even Stoltenberg — a mild-mannered former Norwegian prime minister who has cultivated a positive relationship with the president — appeared reduced to spluttering as Trump cut him off after he started to explain that allies traded with Russia even during the Cold War. Earlier in the exchange, Trump demanded credit from Stoltenberg for forcing an increase of NATO defense budgets.

“We’re supposed to protect Germany, but they’re getting their energy from Russia,” Trump said, as aides on both the U.S. and NATO side of a long table shifted in their seats. Trump’s chief of staff, John F. Kelly, grimaced. U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison looked up at the ceiling. “So explain that,” Trump said. “And it can’t be explained, and you know that.”

Trump’s criticism set off immediate anxiety in Germany. Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung headlined its story: “It is not only bad, it is catastrophic.” Russia’s state-owned Rossiya 1 broadcaster — a reliable proxy for Kremlin views — blasted the remarks as well.

Germany’s energy relationship with Russia has long frustrated Washingtonand Eastern Europe, who fear that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will bypass the Baltic nations and Poland, could be used to cut them off from crucial energy supplies. Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is a top executive at the Russian-government-controlled company that runs the pipeline.

Trump has promoted exports of U.S. natural gas to Europe as an alternativeto Russia as a supply source, although U.S. gas is far more expensive because of shipping costs.

 2:58
Key moments from Stoltenberg’s NATO news conference

Here are key moments from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s remarks to reporters in Brussels on July 11. 

The defense decisions made Wednesday were the result of months of careful negotiation, seemingly separate from Trump’s improvisatory policymaking.

NATO leaders unveiled two new military headquarters: one that would help secure the Atlantic Ocean in times of conflict and the other to speed military movement across Europe. They bolstered NATO missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and expanded efforts to fight terrorism. And they reconfirmed their tough line on Russia’s annexation of Crimea, as well as their pledge to continue pressing the Kremlin through sanctions and diplomacy to return it to Ukraine. Officials from the NATO countries that border Russia embraced the outcome.

“All the decisions contain everything we were wishing for,” said Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics. “It shows that there is a genuine wish to have practical cooperation.”

Trump will have more NATO meetings on Thursday. Following that, he will travel to England to meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May, then spend the weekend at one of his private golf clubs in Scotland. Finally, he will head to Helsinki for a summit with Putin.

Josh Dawsey, John Hudson, Philip Rucker and Quentin Ariès contributed to this report.

Trump Pressures NATO Allies as He Heads to Summit

President will push leaders on military spending, trade at meeting before holding summit with Russia’s Putin

What to Expect From NATO’s Summit in Brussels

The NATO summit in Brussels will take place amid tense relationships within the alliance. The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald F. Seib looks at what to expect. Photo: Getty

President Donald Trump leveled fresh criticism against allies over their military spending as he kicked off a seven-day tour through Europe that begins with a NATO gathering and ends with a summit with President Vladimir Putin aimed at resetting U.S. relations with Moscow.

The trip will showcase two foreign-policy thrusts of the administration: Mr. Trump’s contention that the U.S. has been unfairly treated by its European allies on trade and security, and his interest in improving relations with Russia, despite Moscow’s efforts to divide the West and meddle in elections in the U.S. and across Europe.

It also comes on the heels of a similar one-two combination last month that European allies and some U.S. officials say they are loath to repeat: a contentious meeting in Quebec with members of the Group of Seven, including the major European powers, followed by a Singapore summit between Mr. Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“The European Union makes it impossible for our farmers and workers and companies to do business in Europe (U.S. has a $151 Billion trade deficit), and then they want us to happily defend them through NATO, and nicely pay for it. Just doesn’t work!” Mr. Trump tweeted Tuesday as Air Force One made its descent into a World Cup-gripped Belgium.

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

Getting ready to leave for Europe. First meeting – NATO. The U.S. is spending many times more than any other country in order to protect them. Not fair to the U.S. taxpayer. On top of that we lose $151 Billion on Trade with the European Union. Charge us big Tariffs (& Barriers)!

Earlier in the day, he tweeted: “NATO countries must pay MORE, the United States must pay LESS. Very Unfair!”

The European Union had earlier Tuesday issued a stark rebuke to Mr. Trump’s recent criticisms, warning the U.S. against undermining the trans-Atlantic alliance a day before the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit. “Money is important, but genuine solidarity is even more important,” European Council President Donald Tusk said. “America, appreciate your allies, after all you don’t have that many.”

Europeans say Mr. Trump’s understanding of trans-Atlantic economic relations is based on an incomplete and distorted use of the data. They complain his assertion that Europe has a $151 billion trade surplus with the U.S. counts only goods, ignoring, among other things, his own government’s estimate of a $51 billion surplus in services.

The two-day NATO summit opens Wednesday in Brussels, where Mr. Trump is expected to hold a single bilateral meeting, with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. On Thursday afternoon, he will travel to London for meetings with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and an audience with Queen Elizabeth II, before heading to Scotland to prepare for Monday’s summit in Helsinki with Mr. Putin.

As he left the White House on Tuesday morning, Mr. Trump expressed confidence about his coming summit with Mr. Putin while describing “turmoil” in the U.K. Listing the stops on his trip, he told reporters: “I have NATO, I have the U.K.—that’s a situation with turmoil. And I have Putin. Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of all.”

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump board Air Force One on Tuesday morning.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump board Air Force One on Tuesday morning.PHOTO: PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

He also praised his relationship with Mrs. May but stopped short of calling for her to remain in her post amid a series of recent resignations in the British government. “That’s up to the people,” he said of Mrs. May’s future. “I get along with her very well.”

Within the Trump administration, officials are divided over how to approach the NATO summit. Since his inauguration, Mr. Trump has criticized NATO allies for not meeting their defense-spending commitments, complaints he reiterated in a series of letters to NATO leaderslast month.

ON THE AGENDA

Military spending is among the top issues NATO leaders will debate

  • Raising members’ military spending toward target of 2% of GDP
  • Assurance of mutual defense, U.S. security umbrella
  • Training Iraqi military and Afghan security forces
  • Boosting defense of the Baltic states

Some U.S. officials, including national security adviser John Bolton, are pushing for Mr. Trump to continue to ramp up pressure on allies, at the risk of straining relationships amid a brewing trade fight. The EU last month began imposing duties on a range of American products in retaliation for separate U.S. curbs imposed on steel and aluminum.

President Donald Trump will attend the NATO summit in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday.
President Donald Trump will attend the NATO summit in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday. PHOTO: ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Others in the administration are eager to see unity ahead of the summit with Mr. Putin, which has sparked concerns in Europe and at home that Mr. Trump might make concessions to improve relations with Moscow. U.S. officials have said Mr. Trump will press Mr. Putin, a leader he has often praised, to change Russia’s international behavior.

Those officials are eager to avoid parallels with last month’s G-7 summit, where Mr. Trump clashed with allies—tweeting as he departed the summit that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was “dishonest” and “weak.”

A. Wess Mitchell, the State Department’s top official for trans-Atlantic affairs, said the U.S. would seek to strike “a balance between that which is laudatory, and the need to continue to press the Europeans to do more.”

Arming SlowlyEuropean defense spending is rising…NATO Europe defense spending, changefrom previous year
%2011’12’13’14’15’16’17-4-20246

…but remains small compared with the U.S.’s.Source: NATONote: Constant 2010 prices and exchange rates;2017 figures are estimates
%NATO Europe military spending as apercentage of U.S. military spending2011’12’13’14’15’16’170255075100

Mr. Stoltenberg on Tuesday said “robust” discussions would likely take place in the coming days between the allies, including on military spending. “This summit will show that we are able to deliver on security, on defense, despite the disagreements on trade and other issues,” he said.

Canada on Tuesday pledged to increase the number of its troops deployed in Eastern Europe and extend its role leading a 1,100-soldier NATO deployment in Latvia, which is part of the alliance’s efforts to curb Russian aggression in the region. Mr. Trudeau, whose government plans to increase defense spending to 1.4% of gross domestic product by 2027, said Canada’s contribution to the mission would be extended by another four years.

Mr. Trump singled out Canada in his letters to NATO leaders, expressing “growing frustration…that key allies like Canada have not stepped up defense spending as promised.”

The U.S. ambassador to the alliance said Tuesday that Mr. Trump is unconditionally committed to NATO’s collective security pledge—that an attack on one member nation is an attack on all—and would say so this week. “There’s no window of difference between any of our allies about Article 5,” Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison said. “It’s the foundation of NATO.”

The NATO communiqué, which reiterates pledges to boost military spending and undertake military missions already agreed upon and which Washington strongly supports, is expected to be approved, including by the U.S., during or after the summit.

European leaders are bracing for a rocky week, amid growing worries that a divergence between European and American security interests under the Trump administration could endanger Europe’s U.S. security umbrella.

Foreign-policy analysts described particular apprehension toward the summit from Berlin. Germany, which has just adopted plans to lift military spending to 1.5% of GDP by 2025, is already mired in a trade dispute with Washington, and diplomats acknowledge personal tensions between Mr. Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Tyson Barker, a former State Department official who serves as a program director at the Aspen Institute Germany, described a “white-knuckle mentality” in Berlin ahead of the summit. The thinking there, he said, is: “Can we get through it without a disaster?”

At last year’s NATO summit, Mr. Trump rattled allies by hammering them over their military spending, saying they “owed massive amounts of money,” while refusing to say he supported the alliance’s common defense provision, known as Article 5. He later endorsed the provision.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com

COURTESY: WSJ

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