NATO gathering descends into acrimony as Trump criticizes allies, threatens to leave early

NATO gathering descends into acrimony as Trump criticizes allies, threatens to leave early

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LONDON — Parties always have the potential for messy drama and NATO’s 70th birthday gathering has been no exception.

After an acrimonious two days in the United Kingdom, President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday that he was canceling his press conference that was set to cap off the event.

It comes after Trump lashed out at Justin Trudeau, calling the Canadian prime minister “two faced” after an open mic caught him and others making what may have been references to Trump.

A day earlier Trump condemned the “very, very nasty” remarks made about NATO by French President Emmanuel Macron.

The video that rocked this NATO gathering was captured Tuesday evening at a Buckingham Palace reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth II. The footage, which quickly went viral on social media, shows several world leaders, including Macron, Trudeau and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, having an informal chat.

The context of the conversation is not clear, and it is not known who they are discussing, but Trudeau was overheard saying, “He was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top.”

Trudeau later says, “I just watched his team’s jaws drop to the floor,” again without explicitly saying who they were discussing.

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When asked what he thought of the video, Trump said Trudeau was likely upset that he’d publicly noted Canada was not meeting NATO’s military spending goal.

“I called him out on the fact he is not paying two percent, and I guess he’s not very happy about it,” Trump said, adding that he thinks Trudeau is a “nice guy” despite calling him two-faced moments earlier.

Asked whether he and other leaders were making fun of Trump, Johnson told a news briefing later Wednesday it was “absolute nonsense and I don’t know where that’s come from.”

Macron’s office declined to comment, and Canadian officials were not immediately available for a response.

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That day the U.S. president’s press conference ran for almost three times the allotted 20 minutes, according to the White House transcript.

Meanwhile world leaders were gathering Wednesday in the unassuming London commuter town of Watford for talks, one-to-one meetings and press conferences among the leaders of the 29 NATO member states.

The event, held at the Grove, a luxury hotel and golf resort, got off to a bumpy start. Trump made Johnson and NATO Sec. Gen. Jens Stoltenberg wait 15 minutes for a photo with him.

An aide came to tell the pair that the president’s arrival was delayed, leaving them to stand around making small talk. When Trump did arrive, the trio posed for a photo together before the president tried to leave out of the wrong exit.

NATO leaders and the alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, join Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles for a group photo at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday.Reuters

Trump also held an unscheduled meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who contentiously bought a cutting-edge Russian missile defense system instead of the American alternative.

Erdoğan was also recently criticized by Macron, who condemned Turkey’s “crazy” offensive into northern Syria after U.S. troops pulled back. Macron also said that NATO was “brain dead” and suggested the alliance should focus its attention away from Russia.

The French and Turkish presidents have presented a fresh challenge for NATO, often referred to by supporters as the most successful military club in the world. Trump is normally its loudest critic, suggesting he might walk away if smaller countries do not pay more toward their militaries.

On Wednesday the White House said he will host a lunch for “NATO two percenters” — nations that spend 2 percent of their GDP toward their defense budget, as recommended by the alliance.

Once back in Washington, Trump faces his own drama.

The first impeachment hearings by the House Judiciary Committee begin today, with constitutional scholars testifying about the purpose of impeachment, and the definition of high crimes and misdemeanors as it relates to Trump’s conduct.

Alexander Smith reported from London and Shannon Pettypiece reported from Watford.

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