BRUSSELS -- European Council President Donald Tusk has admonished U.S. President Donald Trump amid tension on the eve of a NATO summit, saying that the U.S. president has been "criticizing Europe almost daily" over defense spending and urging the United States to "appreciate" its allies.
Tusk spoke at a news conference after the signing of a new agreement on cooperation between the European Union and NATO on July 10, a day before the start of a summit of the Western alliance in Brussels.
"I would like to address President Trump...who for a long time now has been criticizing Europe almost daily for, in his view, insufficient contributions to the common defense capabilities and for living off the U.S.," Tusk said."Dear President Trump, America does not have and will not have a better ally than Europe."
He added: "Dear America, appreciate your allies -- after all, you don't have that many," and also urged European countries to "spend more on your defense because everyone respects an ally that is well-prepared and equipped."
At around the same time Tusk was speaking, Trump was tweeting ahead of his trip to Europe -- and reiterating his calls for European NATO members to spend more on defense.
"Getting ready to leave for Europe. First meeting -- NATO. The U.S. is spending many times more than any other country in order to protect them. Not fair to the U.S. taxpayer," Trump wrote on Twitter. "NATO countries must pay MORE, the United States must pay LESS. Very Unfair!"
Trump has been insistently urging NATO countries to fulfill their goal of spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024.
Some European officials have expressed concern that his trip to Europe -- which also includes a visit to Britain and a July 16 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki -- could end up undermining transatlantic unity.
There are also concerns that Trump could make concessions to Putin at a time when many Western governments are concerned about Russian actions such as the seizure of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, backing for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and alleged meddling in elections in the United States and Europe.
As he left the White House to head for Brussels, where he is due to arrive late on July 10, Trump was asked by a reporter whether Putin is "a friend or foe."
"I really can't say right now. As far as I'm concerned, he's a competitor," Trump responded. "I think that getting along with Russia, getting along with China, is a good thing."
Of his meetings in Brussels and Britain and with Putin, he said: "Frankly, [the meeting with] Putin may be the easiest of them all -- who would think? Who would think?"
The United States has "a lot of allies. But we cannot be taken advantage of. We're being taken advantage of by the European Union," Trump said. Referring to European members, he said U.S. spending on NATO "helps them more than it helps us."
Аnother post to Twitter, sent out while Trump was en route to Europe, suggested that NATO members should reimburse Washington for its defense spending.
"Many countries in NATO, which we are expected to defend, are not only short of their current commitment of 2% (which is low), but are also delinquent for many years in payments that have not been made," he wrote. "Will they reimburse the U.S.?"
Amid questions in Europe about Trump's commitment to NATO, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said the declaration signed in Brussels was a "strong commitment to strengthen the cooperation between the European Union and NATO."
He said the declaration builds on one that was signed in Warsaw in 2016 and that had brought NATO and the EU to "an unprecedented level of cooperation" that would now be exceeded.
"In the months ahead, we will step up our cooperation on military mobility, which is essential to our deterrence and defense. We will also work together to respond to hybrid threats and to counter terrorism," Stoltenberg said.
Europe is "taking more responsibility for its security" through separate arrangements that complement NATO, he said, but "NATO remains essential to Euro-Atlantic security."
Stoltenberg said that eight NATO allies were expected to meet the defense spending target of 2 percent of GDP this year: the United States, Estonia, Greece, Britain, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.
"European allies and Canada should not increase defense spending to please the United States," Stoltenberg said. "They are increasing defense spending because it's in their own security interest to do so."
In a conference call with reporters July 10, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, tried to allay concerns among allies the United States was backing away from NATO, or from the alliance treaty's Article 5, which stipulates that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all.
Trump "is committed to Article 5 protection just as it is in the NATO charter," she said. "He is committed to it. And I think that any indication that we're walking away from the NATO charter and the commitments that we've made would be erroneous.
"We are committed to Article 5. We are committed to the NATO alliance. We believe that the NATO alliance strengthens America because we speak with 29 voices to a Russia that is one, to an Iran that is one, to a North Korea that is one. We are 29 and that strengthens us all," she said.