European allies see the two sides of Trump – Business Insider
TAORMINA, Italy (Reuters) – In Sicily, Donald Trump listened
attentively during complex G7 debates over trade and climate
change, smiled for the cameras, and for the most part refrained
from provocative tweets.
In Brussels, he bashed NATO partners for not spending more on
defense, shoved the prime minister of Montenegro and renewed his
attacks on Germany’s trade surplus with the United States.
America’s allies witnessed the two sides of Trump on his first
foreign trip as U.S. president, a nine-day tour that began with
sword dancing in Saudi Arabia and vague pledges in Israel to
deliver Middle East peace.
As Trump headed home, European officials were left with mixed
feelings: relief that he had been patient enough to listen to
their arguments and unsettled by a Jekyll-and-Hyde figure who is
still finding his way on the big policy issues.
“It all fits with his strategic ambiguity approach to life,” said
Julianne Smith of the Centre for a New American Security. “It may
do wonders when dealing with adversaries. But it doesn’t work
when dealing with allies.”
Other leaders of the Group of Seven nations had viewed with
trepidation their summit, held at a cliff-top hotel overlooking
the Mediterranean, after four preparatory meetings failed to
clear up differences with the Trump administration on trade, how
to deal with Russia and climate change.
But in the end, officials said, the result was better than they
The final communique acknowledged a split between the United
States and its six partners over honoring the 2015 Paris accord
on climate change. That followed a debate with Trump that German
Chancellor Angela Merkel described as “very dissatisfying”.
However on trade, Trump bowed to pressure from allies to retain a
pledge to fight protectionism. And on Russia, he did not insist
on removing – as some allies had feared – the threat of
additional sanctions for Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine.
“I found him very willing to engage, very curious, with an
ability and desire to ask questions and to learn from all his
interlocutors,” said Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, the
G7 summit’s host.
Still, there was irritation at Trump’s refusal to show his hand
on the Paris agreement to curb carbon emissions. Near the end of
the summit, he tweeted teasingly that he would make a decision on
Paris next week, leaving delegations to scratch their heads about
why he could not commit in Taormina.
The most critical words were reserved for Trump’s appearance at
NATO headquarters in Brussels, which was described as a
“disaster” by more than one European official.
With the leaders of America’s NATO partners standing like school
children behind him, Trump upbraided them for not spending more
on defense and repeated the charge that some members owed
“massive amounts of money” from past years – even though allied
contributions are voluntary.
Most disturbingly for allies, Trump did not personally affirm his
commitment to Article 5, NATO’s mutual defense doctrine, after
pre-trip signals from the White House that he would do just that.
Trump also failed to mention Russia, which remains NATO’s raison
d’etre in the eyes of most Europeans.
It was a speech that reminded some of Trump’s doom-laden
inauguration address in January, one that seemed written for the
hardest of his hard-core domestic audience. “Proud of
@realDonaldTrump for telling NATO deadbeats to pay up or shut
up,” former Republican governor Mike Huckabee tweeted in
Trump’s appearance in Brussels was particularly galling to the
Germans, who after months of painstaking relationship building
with Trump – including Merkel’s invitation to his daughter Ivanka
for a G20 women’s summit in Berlin – found themselves under
attack from him on two fronts.
Before heading to NATO, Trump criticized Germany’s trade surplus
in a private meeting with senior European Union officials.
“If Trump really wants to go down a path of isolation, it will
only speed up China’s rise to the top,” one senior German
Beyond the rhetoric, Trump’s body language also confounded his
hosts. He muscled aside Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic
as NATO leaders walked into the alliance’s new headquarters for a
And he engaged in two alpha-male handshakes with France’s new
39-year-old President Emmanuel Macron, who seemed to get the
better of Trump on both occasions.
The macho posturing in Europe contrasted to the images, a few
days earlier, of Trump and his team swaying, swords in hand, with
the absolute rulers of Saudi Arabia at a lavish welcome ceremony
given by King Salman.
Summing up the tour on Saturday, Trump’s advisers seemed most
enthused about the Saudi leg, where he clinched a $110 billion
arms deal and forged what one aide described as a “personal bond”
with the king.
“The president was able to make some of the most amazing deals
that have really been made by any administration ever,” enthused
his economic adviser Gary Cohn.
Daniela Schwarzer, research director at the German Council of
Foreign Relations in Berlin, said the trip had confirmed Trump’s
“zero-sum game” view of the world in which you are either a
winner or a loser and relationships are transactional.
“His rhetoric and actions suggest he does not consider it a
priority to build good and engaging relations with allies the
U.S. so far considered its most important ones,” she said.
(Writing by Noah Barkin; Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer;
editing by David Stamp)