President Donald Trump on Thursday capped a tumultuous 24 hours of NATO talks with a press conference that reaffirmed U.S. commitment to the body, which he has attacked repeatedly this week.
After chastising European partners on Wednesday for not spending enough on defense, sparking fears that he could abandon the alliance, Trump changed tack by taking credit for what defense commitments NATO partners had already previously pledged.
NATO countries “really stepped up their commitment and stepped it up like they never have before,” he added, saying the total spending amount could reach $40 billion and would be officially announced later in the day.
“He [NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg] gives us total credit,” Trump said, referring to the increase in spending levels. “And I guess that’s me.”
Trump said he let countries know during this week’s summit that he was “extremely unhappy.” As a result, he continued, “NATO is much stronger than it was two days ago.”
Stoltenberg specified Wednesday that the bloc was focused on its members increasing their defense spending to two percent of GDP. Trump called that figure “amorphous” on Thursday.
Despite the president’s comments Thursday, however, NATO members had already previously pledged to incrementally increase to the two percent threshold by 2024 following Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea.
Trump on Wednesday urged NATO members to instead hit their goal immediately and said that it should ultimately go even higher ― to 4 percent.
French President Emmanuel Macron balked at Trump’s suggestions and urged NATO members not to change course at the U.S. president’s behest.
Macron confirmed that France does indeed plan to increase its defense spending to 2 percent, but insisted that it will only do so by the 2024 deadline.
Despite the kind words Trump had for NATO on Thursday, they were reportedly preceded by a contentious set of discussions. Trump attacked allies again over their progress toward spending targets, prompting an emergency, closed-door session of the main allies that excluded other summit participants, according to The Guardian. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both canceled press conferences as they dealt with the fallout.
The president has long ranted against U.S. NATO allies, and again accused them this week of not paying their fair share in defense spending.
Despite his rants, Trump did sign a joint declaration Wednesday reaffirming commitments between NATO members.
Later Thursday, he heads to the United Kingdom for a working visit, where he will almost entirely avoid London.
“I think they like me a lot in the U.K.,” he said during the Thursday news conference. “I think they agree with me on immigration.”