WASHINGTON -- NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has thanked U.S. President Donald Trump for his "strong commitment” to the military alliance, while the president pressed his demands that the allies do more to pay for their own defense.
Trump, in his April 2 meeting at the White House with the NATO chief, also said he hopes for better relations with Russia.
He asserted that the West has "made great strides" in Afghanistan, although he referred to the nearly 18-year-long war there as "unfortunate" and "ridiculous."
Stoltenberg, who is in Washington to mark the 70th anniversary of the signing of Western military alliance's founding Washington Treaty, said Trump's call for increased “burden-sharing” among members has led to increased defense spending within NATO.
"We are doing more together now than has been done for many, many years," he said.
"NATO is a strong alliance, but to remain a strong alliance we have to be fair. And therefore allies have to invest more in defense," the NATO chief said.
Trump, who has called on NATO allies to increase their defense spending to the agreed level of 2 percent of gross domestic product and even much higher, said most nations are missing the target, although he cited progress.
With Stoltenberg by his side, Trump said that "we've worked together in getting some of our allies to pay their fair share. It's called burden-sharing."
"We are very proud of what's happened in the past couple of years...a tremendous amount of additional money was invested by other [NATO] nations," he added.
Trump singled out Germany, one of the closest allies of the United States, for failing to live up to its promises on spending.
"They're not paying what they should be paying. They're paying close to 1 percent. They’re supposed to be paying 2 percent,” he said.
'We Just Want Fairness'
The U.S. military is protecting Europe, he said, but "we are protecting countries that have taken advantage of the United States."
"The U.S. pays for a disproportionate share of NATO. We just want fairness.”
After comments made earlier in the day by his administration that Russia remains "a threat to the alliance and the United States," the president said he is seeking a better relationship with Moscow.
"I hope we have a good relationship with Russia," Trump said. "I think we'll get along with Russia."
In an earlier briefing with reporters, a senior State Department official said the threat posed by Russia to the West and the United States will be a main topic of discussion when foreign ministers from NATO nations meet in Washington on April 4.
“Russia will be a topic of discussion at the ministerial [meeting],” the official said. "It is…a threat to the alliance and to the United States."
Relations between Russia and the West have been severely strained over a variety of issues including Moscow’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and its support for separatist militants in the conflict in eastern Ukraine that has cost some 13,000 lives over five years.
Speaking on April 1, Stoltenberg said he expects the NATO ministers to "agree new measures to improve our situational awareness in the [Black Sea] region and to step up NATO's support for both Georgia and Ukraine.”
He said the alliance will also discuss its "next steps" in response to what he called Russia's continued violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between Moscow and Washington.
On Afghanistan, the State Department official said future decisions on troop levels will depend on the outcome of peace talks with the Taliban.
The U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, is conducting negotiations with representatives of the militant group in Qatar in an effort to end the war that began after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States.