Friday, July 13, 2018
Trump Tells Europe not to Coddle Up to Russia and Expect a US Defense Umbrella, While He Tells the UK the Special Relationship Has Never Been Stronger
TODAY, PRESIDENT TRUMP IS IN THE UK. He left NATO and America's European NATO allies to ponder what happened, and what to do next. And, that is exactly what he intended to do. • • • NATO ISSUES ADDRESSED. CNBC wrote on Thursday that President Trump says a NATO withdrawal is 'unnecessary' after allies agree to increase spending. President Trump claimed that NATO allies had made unprecedented commitments to increase spending on their own defense, before adding that he believed he could pull out of the group without congressional approval. However, this would be "unnecessary" because allies had agreed to increase their defense spending. • German Chancellor Angela Merkel later told reporters : “We had a very intense summit.” • Trump told reporters : “NATO is much stronger now than it was two days ago.” • However, there was pushback about just what was agreed. While President Trump claimed NATO allies had made unprecedented commitments to increase spending above 2% of GDP on their own defense, French Presidenr Emmanuel Macron denied the Trump claim, saying : "There is a communique that was published yesterday. It’s very detailed. It confirms the goal of 2% by 2024. That’s all.” • Even meeting the 2% target would be a great improvement for most NATO member states. And, Macron added that he does not believe it would be a good idea for NATO members to raise the target for defense spending to 4% of GDP from 2%, as Trump had suggested. • The US pays something like 4.2% of GDP for NATO and President Trump let the Europeans know that he is "extremely unhappy....It all came together in the end. It was a little tough for a while." Currently only five of NATO’s 29 member states actually allocate 2% of their gross domestic product (GDP) to military spending that they are formally committed to as part of the alliance -- the US, the UK, Greece, Estonia and Poland. • It is rather surprising that the smaller, poorer and newer NATO members are paying theri fair share while the "old Europe" tags along as freeloaders on the US and others. In what was supposed to be seema as a great leap forward, in May, Germany pledged to increase its defense spending to 1.5% of GDP by 2025, up from a low of 1.1% in 2015. On Thursday, Germany's long-serving Chancellor said everyone had made a clear commitment to NATO after a "very fundamental" discussion on Thursday morning. She gave few details about the commitments that NATO members had given to President Trump. • On the first day of talks in the Belgian capital, Brussels, Trump publicly accused Germany -- the second biggest state in the Western defense alliance -- of being “totally controlled” by Russia. He suggested a string of energy oil and gas deals had given Moscow far too much influence over the continent’s largest economy. Both Germany and Russia have dismissed Trump’s accusation. That, along with the ongoing trade dispute between the US and the European Union and the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, made this week's NATO talks sensitive. • • • THE RUSSIA-GERMANY PIPELINE DEAL. Epoch Times reported on Wednesday that : "President Donald Trump harshly criticized Germany on July 11 for buying vast amounts of energy from Russia while relying on the United States to deter the threat of Moscow’s threatening geopolitical ambitions. Trump aired his criticism in a tense exchange with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as cameras rolled during a pre-breakfast media opportunity usually reserved for pale and formulaic political remarks. 'Well, I have to say, I think it’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia, where you’re supposed to be guarding against Russia, and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia,' Trump said. 'So we’re protecting Germany. We’re protecting France. We’re protecting all of these countries. And then numerous...countries go out and make a pipeline deal with Russia, where they’re paying billions of dollars into the coffers of Russia.' " Although Trump did not specifically name the Russian pipeline project, he was referring to Nord Stream 2, an expansion of the world’s largest undersea pipeline linking Russia to Germany. Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom owns the majority stake in the project, with half of the financing coming from a group of energy corporations from France, Austria, England, and Germany. Epoch imes says : "The United States has long opposed Nord Stream 2, saying it would undermine Europe’s security. In May, the State Department threatened to sanction the companies involved in the project. The President said that Germany is 'totally controlled by Russia because they will be getting from 60 to 70% of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline. And the former Chancellor of Germany is the head of the pipeline company that’s supplying the gas,' Trump said, referring to Gerhard Schröder, the chairman of the board of directors of Nord Stream AG. Ultimately, Germany will have almost 70% of their country controlled by Russia with natural gas.' " • NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg defended the Russian pipeline, saying that even during the Cold War some allies traded with Russia. He told Trump at the breakfast : “You know, NATO is an alliance of 29 nations, and there are sometimes differences and different views, and also some disagreements. And the gas pipeline from Russia to Germany is one issue where allies disagree. But the strength of NATO is that despite these differences, we have always been able to unite around our core task, to protect and defend each other, because we understand that we are stronger together than apart.” Trump rejected the explanation, asking : “How can you be together when a country is getting its energy from the person you want protection against?” • Later, Jens Mueller, a spokesperson for Nord Stream 2, told the Epoch Times that Nord Stream 2 is a commercial project with five investors in the EU. Roughly half of the pipeline’s $9.5 billion price tag is financed by Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall, France’s Engie, Austria’s OMV, and Dutch-British oil giant Royal Dutch Shell. Mueller said : “The implementation of our project is not subject to political sentiment but a comprehensive framework of permitting procedures following clearly defined legal requirements that are based on EU and national legislation as well as international conventions. Therefore, we do not participate in political speculation.” • But, "political speculation" is what the Nord Stream 2 is all about. The EU is split on the pipeline issue. Germany and a handful of dominant union members support it. Nord Stream 2 largely follows the route of the existing Nordstream pipeline. Epoch Times reports : "Gazprom secured permits from Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Germany to build the pipeline on the bed of the Baltic Sea. Meanwhile, many smaller central and Eastern European members of the EU oppose the project, fearing that the pipeline would establish Russia’s dominance over the European gas market and free Moscow from funding a lucrative deal for Ukraine as a transit country. Nord Stream 2 has been viewed as an intensely political project since Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea. Half of the gas that Gazprom sells to the European Union transits through Ukraine. 'Russia currently has the ability to supply gas to Europe across Ukraine. So adding Nord Stream 2 is not adding a new capability of supplying gas that doesn’t exist,' Kurt Volcker, the US special representative for Ukraine negotiations, said on May 24. 'It is, rather, replacing one. And it is intended...purely as a political act by Russia in order to put Ukraine, and also to some degree the Baltic states and Poland, at a higher degree of vulnerability to Russian pressure. So it’s a purely political project.' " On July 9, the president of Ukraine and the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission opposed the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in a joint statement. Trump’s pressure on Germany was direct : “What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy? Why are there only 5 out of 29 countries that have met their commitment?” Trump wrote on Twitter hours after the July 11 breakfast remarks. “The US is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billions on Trade. Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025.” • On Wednesday afternoon, Trump privately discussed Nord Stream 2 with German Chancellor Angela Merkel but did not elaborate on the details. In remarks to reporters, Trump said the United States has a “tremendous relationship with Germany” and Merkel noted that “we are good partners.” According to Epoch Times : "The threat of an emergent Russia was expected to be the key theme at the summit. In bringing to light Germany’s energy dependence on Moscow, Trump affirmed the assessments from his State Department, which has for months warned that Nord Stream 2 is a threat to the national security of America’s European allies." • Nord Stream 2 is sure to be on the agenda when President Trump meets Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday. Trump has already established his starting point for negotiations about the pipeline. • • • THE NEXT STOP -- THE UK AND MEETINGS WITH PM THERESA MAY AND THE QUEEN. President Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May pledged full cooperation on trade and other issues Friday, easing tensions following Trump’s interview with the Sun in which he criticized her handling of 'Brexit' and called into question a US-UK trade deal. • In their joint press conference at Chequers, the official residence of British prime ministers outside London, the two leaders touted the relationship between the US and the UK and affirmed their commitment to work together on issues of national security, terrorism, border security and trade. • Despite his interview with the Sun, Trump said he supported whatever decision May comes to regarding Brexit, Britain's departure from the European Union. President trump told PM May in his opening statement : “Once the Brexit process is concluded -- and perhaps the UK has left the EU, I don’t know, whatever you’re going to do is okay with us. Just make sure we can trade together. That’s all that matters.” Both leaders said their countries would work out a trade deal. Mrs. May said : “We will do a trade deal with the US and with others around the world.” She said she and President Trump came up with an “ambitious deal that works for both countries,” that would build on the UK’s independent trade policy. President Trump thanked Mrs. May for “pursuing fair and reciprocal trade” with the US, something he said is sorely lacking in the EU-US trade relationship. • Trump and May also discussed a mutual commitment to stopping nuclear proliferation, in North Korea and Iran, and terrorism. • The President also eased tensions over his Sun interview comments, saying he “didn’t criticize the prime minister” and suggesting the article left out the “tremendous things” he said about May. He said his aides have a tape of that interview, suggesting it could be released. Standing next to May, he called her an "incredible woman" and "tough negotiator" who is doing a "fantastic job." Trump later called their relationship "the highest level of special" and added, "I would much rather have her as my friend than as my enemy, that I can tell you." He then asked the Sun reporter at the press conference to verify that he had said great things about Theresa May and the reporter agreed that he had. • President Trump instead saved his most pointed criticism for Germany's Angela Merkel, continuing to hammer her over a natural-gas pipeline deal with Russia, saying : “I think it’s a horrible thing that Germany’s doing," asking, howcan you negotiate peace from strength when up to 70% of your energy is coming from Russia?" • The White House issued a statement in the wake of the interview, highlighting the ties between May and Trump : "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,'" White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said. “He thought she was great on NATO today and is a really terrific person. He is thankful for the wonderful welcome from the Prime Minister here in the UK.” • • • MRS. MAY'S BREXIT TROUBLES. It is true that Prime Minister May has got her hands full keeping her Conservative govenrment in line and holding the rank-and-file Conservative members of Parliament with her on her final White Paper xontaining the final elements of the Brexit negotiation with the EU. • Money and Markets wrote on Tuesday : "May has spent the past few days fighting for her political life as first Brexit Secretary David Davis and then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson quit, saying May’s plans for future relations with the European Union did not live up to their idea of Brexit. May, who has tried to keep calm and carry on, said in a tweet that it was a 'productive Cabinet meeting' and she was 'looking forward to a busy week.' The resignations rocked May in a week that includes a NATO summit starting Wednesday and a UK visit by US President Donald Trump that begins Thursday. Johnson quit Monday with an incendiary letter accusing May of killing 'the Brexit dream' and flying 'white flags' of surrender in negotiations with the European Union." • But, Conservative lawmaker Michael Fallon, an ally of May, dismissed Johnson’s “Brexit dream” rallying cry : “Dreaming is good, probably for all of us, but we have to deal with the real world,” Fallon said. Fallon warned Conservative rebels that a challenge to May’s leadership is “the last thing we need.” Other pro-Brexit Cabinet ministers said they support May and would not resign. Asked if he was planning to quit, environment Secretary Michael Gove, a Johnson ally on Brexit, said “absolutely not.” • Two years after Britain voted 52 to 48% to leave the European Union, May is trying to find a middle way between two starkly differing views -- within her party and the country -- of the UK’s relationship with Europe. Pro-European British want to retain close economic ties with the bloc and its market of 500 million people, while some Brexit supporters want a clean break to make it possible to strike new trade deals around the world. A plan agreed by May’s Cabinet last week seeks to keep the UK and the EU in a free-trade zone for goods, and commits Britain to maintaining the same rules as the bloc for goods and agricultural products. May says the plan will deliver frictionless trade with Europe and avoid a hard border between the UK’s Northern Ireland region and EU member Ireland. But many pro-Brexit lawmakers are furious because they say the plan will prevent Britain from forging an independent economic course. Davis and Johnson initially backed the plan, before deciding they could not support it. • This is what President Trump was referring to in his Sun interview, but on Friday he and PM May sorted it out and came to their joint press conference saying that the Brexit deal will leave the UK free ot negotiate trade deals with not only the US but other nations around the world. • • • THE RUSSIA MEETING ON MONDAY. After his largely successful NAOT meeting followed by a lovefest with British Prime Minister Theresa May and tea with Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle, President Trump will have a weekend at his Trump golf resort near Prestwick in western Scotland. Then, on Sunday evening he leaves for Helsinki and his Monday, July 16, meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. President Trump rattled off a long list of topics for the Putin meeting -- everything from Syria and other Middle East issues to Ukraine, nuclear non-proliferation and whether Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election. It's an ambitious agenda that should produce many headlines. • American Thinker contributor, the esteemed Michael Curtis, writing before the trip started, compared the Trump visit to Europe to the "running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, at the Sanfermines festival, when hundreds of foolhardy youngsters run through the street, as has been the custom for 700 years, defying the animals intent on goring and trampling them....The political international bullring is now the arena for President Donald Trump to display diplomatic skill if not comparable bravado in running or being chased or being gored by NATO members through the streets of Brussels in July 11-12, 2018, sipping tea with Queen Elizabeth at Windsor on July 15 and discussing with Prime Minister Theresa May and perhaps his "friend" Boris Johnson the turmoil in British politics, and going to Helsinki, Finland, on July 16 to meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin, presently basking in the afterglow of the World Cup. The open question is whether Trump will, like Hemingway's matador, let the bull pass so close that the man and the animal are one sharply etched mass. Trump is engaged in two interrelated encounters: the enigmatic Russian regime under Putin, and the NATO trans-Atlantic alliance, founded in 1949, led by the US since its creation, and now numbering 29 members. An open question is whether going to Helsinki, a few days after Brussels, implies Trump's displeasure with NATO. The meeting with Putin reinforces Trump's emphatic call at the G7 conference on June 8, 2018, for Russia to be readmitted to the group from which it was expelled in 2014 because of the annexation of Crimea. NATO, exacerbated by Trump's call, is unlikely to agree with him that Crimea is part of Russia because its people speak Russian." • Michael Curits notes that NATO was created in 1949 as an intergovernmental military alliance, originally of 12 countries, for "collective defense against an external party, in reality the Soviet Union, and the fear of communist expansion in Europe." Trump, according to Curtis, must now redefine the purpose and objective of NATO in the light of "the end of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, the communist collective defense treaty, regarded as the communist balance of power to NATO" -- the Warsaw Pact was disbanded in 1991 when the Soviet Union fell. Curtis asks : "Will Trump, who has already cut US funding to UN organs, be as critical or hostile to NATO as to other multilateral organizations such as NAFTA and the WTO?" • We now know the answer to that question -- President Trump has forced his NATO allies to pay more of the cost of NATO and declared on Friday in the press conference with British Prime Minister May that he is happy with the NATO result and that NATO is now stronger than ever. • Curtis raised another issue -- would President Trump pull US troops out of Europe. Trump also answered that question on Friday -- the US troop commitment to Europe is strong. • For Michael Curtis : "Russia has been the flavor of the year in the US Congress and judicial system over its alleged electoral interference , response to NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe, involvement and friendship with rulers in Syria and Iran, and Russian responsibility for suspicious deaths including poisoning of former Russian double agents living in Britain....The present problem is that many in the U.S. and in Europe believe that Trump has a strange fit of passion for Putin, a fellow strong leader, but he sees Putin as a 'competitor.' Russia is no longer a totalitarian system on Stalinist lines characterized by a monolithic political regime based on a communist ideology, an all-powerful state in control of a docile society; use of terror and lies, the purported objective to create a 'new man,' and ambition to spread the message to the rest of the world. Yet, there were always places of autonomy, plotting, palace intrigue, among the ambitious leaders in the Kremlin, as the 2017 comic film The Death of Stalin portrays, as well as cells of family, community, associations, nationals; and evolution of the regime over time, especially with perestroika in 1985. If Putin is not Stalin or Lenin, nor a mastermind, he presides over a complex system that includes an empire of spies and secret police linked to a criminal underworld with protection rackets and drug-smuggling and powerful oligarchs, and has encouraged or been indifferent to extrajudicial executions, some of which appear linked to warring intelligence services. It remains unclear who is responsible for the large number of political murders in Moscow and in Britain." • President Trump's task is to see into these aspects of Vladimir Putin and the Russian quasi-regime he leads and determine the best path forward. Some Russia analysts say Putin is looking for a place at the table of world leaders aonce again, despite his questionable tactics and policies. We might argue that it was ever thus with Russia, and unitl Ukraine and Crimea, it never kept Russia off the world stage of major players. President Trump, says Michael Curtis, speaks of Russian "malign activities. He and Putin disagree on the Iran nuclear deal, on supplying oil to Iran, on the war in Syria, use of chemical weapons by Russia in Britain and elsewhere, cyberspace, and the truth about Russian interference in the U.S. 2016 election." • But, according to Curtis : "Yet they can agree on certain issues. Both no longer demand the ouster in Syria of President Assad. Both share aims : arms control and control over nuclear weapons and ballistic defense systems, strategic stability, keeping Iran-backed forces in southern Syria away from the border line with Israel, having Hezbollah fighters removed from the Syrian side of the border with Lebanon, and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula." • There is a lot of agreement -- and to be honest, Europe agrees on most of those issues as well. The sticking point for Europe is Iran trade. So, Curtis says we should expect that in the Helsinki meetings, Trump will be the skillful conciliator "as well as a careful matador." Donald Trump understands full well who is America's strategic friend (the UK, follwoed by Europe) and who is a strategic problem (Russia). • • • DEAR READERS, in late breaking news that came while the President was with the Queen, the Mueller probe has indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking and releasing DNC emails durign the 2016 presidential campaign. This surely is the Deep State at work -- trying to interfere with the President's agenda by creating a false narrative around the Trump-Putin meeting to the effect that Trump is meeting with the enemy of America. What a transparent effort with the evil intention of trying once again to destroy President Trump. It will not work. • On Monday, President Trump will continue -- strive to build a personal working relationship with Vladimir Putin, to find issues on which he can build a larger positive relationship between the United States and Russia, while at the same time warning Putin against aggression pointed at Europe and the United States, drawing Russia into the worldwide battle against terrorism, and persuading Putin to collaborate with the US in the Middle East. That is a tall order. But, if anyone can do it, it is Donald Trump. We will have a lot more to discuss on Monday.