BRUSSELS – U.S. President Donald Trump has urged leaders from the 27 other NATO member states to do more to fight terrorism and to put immigration and threats from Russia at the top of their agenda.
"The NATO of the future must include a great focus on terrorism and immigration as well as threats from Russia and NATO's eastern and southern borders," Trump told fellow leaders at NATO headquarters on May 25.
Trump, who once characterized the security alliance as “obsolete,” also reiterated his demand that member nations make “their full and complete contributions” to the Western alliance by increasing their defense spending.
NATO member nations in the past have vowed to increase their defense spending to 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) by 2024. Currently, only Britain, Estonia, Greece, Poland, and the United States have reached that level.
"This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States," Trump said. "If NATO countries made their full and complete contributions, then NATO would be even stronger than it is today, especially from the threat of terrorism."
The president did not make any mention of Article 5, the NATO alliance’s mutual defense pact that states an attack on one member constitutes an attack on all members.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer, when asked about U.S. commitment to Article 5, said, "It goes without saying. [Trump’s] presence at this event underscores our commitments and treaty obligations."
After hosting allied leaders, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the participants agreed to an action plan to do more in the fight against terrorism and to ensure fairer burden sharing.
“NATO will become a full member of the Global Coalition” against the extremist group Islamic State (IS), he said, adding that the move will enable the alliance to take part in political deliberations.
“We also decided to establish a terrorism intelligence cell within our new Intelligence Division,” he added. “This will improve the sharing of information among allies, including on the threat of foreign fighters.”
And alliance members decided to “develop annual national plans, setting out how allies intend to meet the defense investment pledge we made together in 2014,” the NATO chief said.
Stoltenberg said NATO would expand the role of its AWACS surveillance planes in supporting anti-IS operations.
However, the plan did not provide for NATO taking on a combat role in the fight against IS and other extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.
All 28 NATO members are already individually members of the 68-nation U.S.-led Global Coalition, whose goal is to defeat IS, but NATO as an organization has not followed suit until now despite pressure from the United States.
Member states such as France, Germany, and Italy had reportedly opposed such a move to avoid dragging the alliance into a ground war and risk harming relations with Arab powers.
Twenty-three of the Global Coalition’s partners have over 9,000 troops in Iraq and Syria in support of the effort to defeat IS, while its air assets have conducted more than 19,000 strikes on IS targets.
The alliance's leaders were hoping to prove to Trump as he visited the new billion-dollar, state-of-the-art NATO headquarters that the alliance is more relevant than ever and ready to combat terrorism against the backdrop of the May 22 bombing in Manchester, England, that killed 22 people.
Trump slammed NATO as being "obsolete" during the U.S. presidential campaign, saying it was failing to focus on the threat from Islamist terrorism and meet its defense spending commitments.
But he said in April that it was "no longer obsolete" after many allies -- following repeated exhortations by senior U.S. officials earlier this year -- started making plans to increase their military spending and incorporate counterterrorism into NATO's mission.
“I am happy that all NATO member states will underline that NATO is the central pillar of our common security, that we feel united in solidarity for our common security," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said as she arrived for the meeting, the first such gathering to be attended by Trump.
Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas expressed confidence that “under constructive leadership of President Trump, NATO will continue to play a key role in transatlantic security and defense."
Trump, on his first foreign trip since taking office in January, was met by thousands of protesters in Brussels saying he was not welcome in a city he once referred to as a “hellhole.”
And the carefully choreographed visit hit a bump in Trump’s first meeting with European Union officials where they failed to find common ground on several issues.
European Council President Donald Tusk told reporters in that while there was agreement on issues such as counterterrorism, there are differences on other key areas such as climate change, trade, and Russia.
"I am not 100 percent sure we can say today -- we means [Trump] and myself -- that we have a common position, common opinion about Russia," Tusk said after the meeting. "Although when it comes to the conflict in Ukraine it seems that we were on the same line."
The former Polish prime minister also called for the promotion of “Western values.”
“My main message to President Trump was that what gives our cooperation and friendship its deepest meaning are fundamental Western values like freedom, human rights and respect for human dignity,” Tusk said. “The greatest task today is the consolidation of the whole free world around those values -- not just interests. Values and principles first: This is what we, Europe and America, should be saying.”
At NATO headquarters, Trump attended the unveiling of two new memorials dedicated to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States and the Berlin Wall that divided the city for nearly three decades during the Cold War.
“Each one marks a pivotal event in the history of this alliance and in the eternal battle between good and evil,” Trump said in his speech.
“On one side a testament of the triumph of our ideals over a totalitarian communist ideology bent on the oppression of millions and millions of people,” he added. “On the other a painful reminder of the barbaric evil that still exists in the world and that we must confront and defeat together as group, as a world.”
With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters