Trump tangles with NATO leaders in testy start to Brussels summit
President Trump kicked off the highly anticipated NATO summit Wednesday with sharp words for the head of the alliance and Germany, using the meeting to challenge European countries over their defense spending and even agreements with Russia.
Before sitting down for the first official meeting of the day, the president engaged in a testy exchange with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. He pressed why the U.S. should continue to pay money to the military alliance while the countries purchase energy from Moscow.
"We are stronger together," Stoltenberg said, while acknowledging there can be differences among allies.
"But how can you be together when you're getting energy from the group you want protection from?" Trump responded, using Germany as an example. Trump challenged Stoltenberg to explain why Berlin was getting energy from Russia, and asserted that Germany was "totally controlled" by and "captive to Russia" over a pipeline project.
That pipeline project, Nord Stream 2 pipeline, doubles the amount of gas Russia can send directly to Germany, while sidestepping transit countries like Ukraine. The project is opposed by the U.S. and some European Union members.
"We're supposed to protect you against Russia and yet you make this deal with Russia," Trump said of Germany. "Explain that. It can't be explained."
Trump is expected to meet with NATO leaders throughout the day on Wednesday on the sidelines of the summit. Anticipation has built for weeks over how confrontational the meeting might be, given the U.S. president's complaints about trade and NATO allies' military budgets -- and how the summit might compare with Trump's scheduled meeting in Finland with Russia's Vladimir Putin.
That meeting has riled Democrats in Washington amid the probe over Russian meddling in the election. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted Wednesday, "President Trump should not meet with President Putin alone."
The summit in Brussels is the first stop on Trump's four-country European tour where tensions already have risen over tariffs and the potential trade war between the European Union and the U.S. Trump implemented tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports, and the EU is pushing to retaliate.
Trump also has been pressing NATO countries to fulfill their goal of spending 2 percent of their gross domestic products on defense by 2024. NATO estimates that 15 members, or just over half, will meet that benchmark based on current trends.
Since the election, Trump has criticized NATO countries for not paying their fair share, while suggesting he would only come to the defense of NATO nations that fulfilled their financial obligation.
Meanwhile, the president tweeted Wednesday in support of U.S. farmers, whom he says he is "always thinking about."
"I am in Brussels, but always thinking about our farmers. Soy beans fell 50% from 2012 to my election. Farmers have done poorly for 15 years. Other countries' trade barriers and tariffs have been destroying their businesses," Trump tweeted from Belgium. "I will open things up, better than ever before, but it can't go too quickly. I am fighting for a level playing field for our farmers, and will win!"
The next stop on the president's tour will be Britain, amid a tumultuous climate for Prime Minister Theresa May. May's government is in turmoil over her plans for exiting the European Union.
This week, U.K. Foreign Minister Boris Johnson stunningly resigned amid the growing backlash over May and her handling of Britain's departure from the EU. Johnson resigned less than 24 hours after Brexit Secretary David Davis and junior Brexit minister Steve Baker left their posts in protest of how the government is handling Brexit.
Trump suggested Tuesday that he may meet with Johnson when he gets over there. Trump, who has been vocal in his supporter of Brexit, is slated to meet with May on Friday.
Trump's tour will continue with a stop in Scotland over the weekend, then conclude with his final stop in Helsinki, Finland on Monday for his highly-anticipated summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump suggested that his meeting with Putin could be the "easiest" stop on the European tour, after confrontational talks with NATO and EU leaders.Fox News' Edmund DeMarche, Kristin Brown, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Brooke Singman is a Politics Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @brookefoxnews.