Trump commits US to defending NATO nations

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday reaffirmed the long-standing U.S. commitment to come to the defense of any NATO members that are attacked, more than two weeks after his refusal to do so during a trip to Europe stirred resentment among America's traditional allies.

The White House also announced that Trump will travel to Poland next month before heading to Germany for a Group of 20 summit meeting, a visit meant to reassure Eastern European allies at a time when they feel nervous about aggression by Russia after its intervention in Ukraine, which is not a NATO member.

European leaders were disappointed last month when Trump did not explicitly endorse the mutual defense doctrine articulated in Article 5 of the NATO charter while visiting the alliance headquarters in Brussels. A line in his speech was taken out at the last minute, to the chagrin of the president's national security team.

"I'm committing the United States to Article 5," Trump said during a news conference Friday with President Klaus Iohannis of Romania in the White House Rose Garden. "And certainly, we are there to protect and that's one of the reasons that I want people to make sure we have a very, very strong force by paying the kind of money necessary to have that force. But yes, absolutely, I'd be committed to Article 5."

Article 5 states that "an armed attack against one or more" members "in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all" and has been the bedrock of the trans-Atlantic relationship for nearly seven decades. Trump raised doubts about the commitment during his campaign last year when he said he would come to the defense only of allies that have fulfilled financial obligations.

Because of that, NATO leaders had hoped for an unqualified commitment to Article 5, arguing that any doubt about American resolve would encourage Russian adventurism. Politico reported that Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, had lobbied for such a line in the president's speech last month but that the 27 words were deleted before Trump delivered it.

Seven House Democrats, led by Rep. Adam Smith of California, the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, sent Trump a letter Friday urging him to make an explicit commitment. "Not committing to Article 5 provides opportunities for our adversaries," they wrote.

A spokesman did not respond to questions about why the president was willing to make such a statement now when he was not two weeks ago, but White House officials have previously said that too much was being made of the absence of the words and that Trump's very presence at NATO headquarters made clear his commitment to the alliance.

Trump used his meeting with Iohannis to repeat his insistence that NATO allies increase their military spending. Not counting Montenegro, which just joined the alliance, only five of 28 members devoted at least 2 percent of their economic output to their militaries in accordance with a NATO goal. Iohannis promised on Friday to raise Romania's military spending to 2 percent.

"We hope our other NATO allies will follow Romania's lead on meeting their financial obligations and paying their fair share for the cost of defense," Trump said. He added that "because of our actions, money is starting to pour into NATO" and suggested that perhaps some allies should "pay some or all of that money back" from previous years.

As he has in the past, Trump seemed to misunderstand how NATO works, speaking as if the issue were a matter of dues. NATO has a relatively small budget based on contributions from members, and none of them are in arrears. The issue is whether the NATO members are spending enough on their own militaries.

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