Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Accuses Germany of Being Captive of Russia; Dissecting Trump's Claims; Germany Pushes Back on Scolding; Trump Wants Higher NATO Commitments. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired July 11, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Watching. We are waiting for President Trump to arrive at the NATO dinner.

And Wolf will bring that to you. He starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 7:00 p.m. in Brussels, 8:00 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

Some early fireworks in Brussels where the NATO summit kicked off today. Any moment now, the leaders will be walking out for yet another traditional family photo opportunity and the welcome ceremony. We're going to bring that to you live. Stand by for that.

With plenty on the table for the NATO allies to discuss, President Trump is pushing collective defense spending to the forefront once again. He's questioning the commitment of other allies, particularly singling out Germany.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I think that these countries have to step it up, not over a ten-year period, they have to step it up immediately. Germany is a rich country. They talk about they're going to increase it a tiny bit by 2030. Well, they could increase it immediately, tomorrow, and have no problem. I don't think it's fair to the United States.

Now, if you look at it, Germany is a captive of Russia, because they supply -- they got rid of their coal plants, they got rid of their nuclear. They're getting so much of the oil and gas from Russia. I think it's something that NATO has to look at.


BLITZER: Let's go to our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny. He's joining us live from Brussels.

Jeff, the president has been hammering allies for not meeting that so- called 2 percent threshold for defense spending. Two percent of GDP, gross domestic product. But, Jeff, the president is now, what, he's even asking them to spend more? What's the latest?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he is indeed. President Trump asking leaders of NATO countries to spend 4 percent, doubling the goal of 2 percent, of their spending on defense. Of course, that is an unrealistic goal of 4 percent because, as the president has been pointing out indeed, only a handful of countries even meet the projected spending of 2 percent.

But this is largely a semantics exercise that the president has been engaging in. You know, essentially blasting all NATO countries here.

And, Wolf, just a few moments ago he sent out a tweet as well on his way to that dinner with leaders this evening. Let's take a look at that, Wolf. He says this, what good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy? And he goes on to say, only five of the 29 NATO countries are currently paying their 2 percent.

But, Wolf, I am struck by the beginning of that tweet, what good is NATO? The reality here is the theme of this NATO summit is strength in unity. But the president is taking exception to that, essentially upending the world order, you know, that has been in place for the large part since World War II, by going after Germany directly, the president clearly trying to project, perhaps, or misdirect or deflect his own criticism that he indeed is too close to Vladimir Putin. Of course, that meeting in Helsinki on Monday with Vladimir Putin is looming large over this entire NATO summit.

But, Wolf, despite the criticism, despite the sharp words, foreign ally Germany, the president did sign the joint communique here at NATO that is calling out Russia for its aggression, for its invasion into Ukraine, Crimea and for its, you know, meddling in elections. So the president did sign that. Something he did not do at the G-7 meeting just last month.

But, Wolf, Angela Merkel had an interesting response to all of this. She, of course, reminded folks that she grew up in East Germany. And she said she knows what it's like to be captive to then, of course, the Soviet Union.

So, Wolf, an interesting dinner on hand this evening as the president certainly setting the stage for more confrontation as he's done throughout the day here in Brussels.


BLITZER: Yes, a lot of tough talk already.

Jeff Zeleny in Brussels, thank you.

Before we go any further, I want to fact check these claims from the president that the U.S. basically supports NATO and the accusation that Germany is beholden to Russia.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is with us. Jim, let's start with the president demanding that other countries pay

what he says would be their fair share and they pay it immediately. Is the U.S. being treated unfairly?

SCIUTTO: Well, this battle within NATO is not new. Successive U.S. presidents have pushed European allies to pay more, to contribute more. And there is some basis to that argument. I'll just give you an example.

This is the number of military transport aircraft. That's a key of getting forces into place to fight wars, to counter threats. The U.S. has more than 5,000, 5,200 transport aircraft. All the other NATO members combined, they have a little more than half that together. And it's this imbalance that successive U.S. presidents have tried to address.

Now, if you look at the U.S. military budget, it pays 3.5 percent, a little more than that, of its budget. Now, that's something of an unfair comparison because the U.S. has many military commitments far beyond NATO. But, when you look at that 2 percent goal, only a handful of countries meet that. Greece, it's a little misleading because their budget is so small after the financial crisis. But the U.K. does. Estonia, right on the border with Russia, it does. Poland, again, close to that eastern frontier of NATO, it does. But the other big U.S. allies in NATO, they do not. France is pretty close. Canada, Germany, as the president likes to single out, is not.

[13:05:31] Now, to be clear, that 2 percent goal, it is not a legal requirement. It's not a treaty requirement. It was a goal to established at the 2014 NATO summit to be met by 2024, which is still, of course, six years away. Of course, they made that goal before they knew that a President Donald Trump was going to be elected and make this such a political issue for him. He's, in effect, moving up that -- well, not deadline, but that goal year, demanding that those NATO members meet that target. Well, of course, today, you might say he's up ended it all by now doubling the target. Clearly not a serious request, but the president has made it.

BLITZER: Yes, he says it's not good enough, 2 percent. It's got to be 4 percent, which, clearly is not going to happen.

What about the claims from the president that Germany is, what he calls a captive of Russia. What's he referring to?

SCIUTTO: Well, he's referring to the fact that Germany, and, frankly, a whole bunch of European countries, depend on Russia for natural gas. Germany, in its case, gets about a third of its natural gas from Russia. Another third from Norway. A little less than a third from Netherlands. If you look at the rest of Europe, it's not that far out of whack. I mean, after all, Europe is close to Russia. Russia produces a lot of natural gas. The whole European Union, a little more than a third. Again, Norway and some from across the Mediterranean in Algeria.

Big driving factor here is cost. These countries, after Russia invaded Ukraine, they said, listen, we're going to buy less Russian gas. We want to be less dependent. But the fact is, that the price of Russian gas has gone down. They've been buying more of it. And a lot of that is an economic factor.

I will say this. U.S. natural gas producers, they are desperate to sell U.S. natural gas to Europe. They would love to. The trouble is, there's no pipeline from here to there, so you have to liquefy it, take it across in big ships. That costs a lot of money. They just can't compete with the cheap gas coming across the border from Russia.

BLITZER: Good point. Jim Sciutto, thank you for that explanation.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, diplomatically pushed back on President Trump's disparaging remarks about NATO, reminding him of how the U.S. benefits from the alliance.


ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): Germany has to thank NATO for a lot. For German reunification and for the unification of Europe. That has a lot to do with NATO. But Germany also does a lot for NATO. We are the second largest donor of troops. We put most of our military abilities into the service of NATO. And we are strongly committed in Afghanistan, where we also defend the interest of the United States of America.


BLITZER: Let's go to our chief international anchor, Christiane Amanpour. She's joining us right now.

Christiane, the president has continually criticized NATO allies for not paying what he calls would be their fair share. So why are his remarks today surprising? He's been saying very similar things, not just for a few years, but for the past few decades.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, look, that's right, he has been saying that. It doesn't make it any less surprising when he says it as president of the United States into the face of his allies there. It's more, to be honest with you, the remarks he made about Angela Merkel and Germany itself, which was the other thing. You know, the apples and oranges. We've got apples, which is the NATO budget, and oranges, which is the pipeline.

Calling Germany a captive and controlled by Russia. I mean it is completely unprecedented language. It is the most undiplomatic language to talk to an ally. You know, Angela Merkel, who grew up in Soviet-dominated east Europe, captive of the Soviet Union, of Russia?

And, of course, this pipeline, according to the Russian foreign ministry, has nothing to do with the government. This is a commercial enterprise. And this is what the German defense minister told me about it. Of course this pipeline started some 15 years ago, way before there were any NATO targets, as there are right now.

Listen to what she told me.


URSULA VON DER LEYEN, GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTER: First of all, this is a pipeline. This economic project started, I think, back in 2002 or '03, so way before Russia changed its behavior in 2014.

We have a very diverse mix of energy supply. So the president hasn't to be worried that there's any kind of dependency.

On the contrary, if there is one person who has been dealing all the time with President Putin very hard on the issues of the Ukraine and the hybrid (ph) war in the Ukraine, it was Chancellor Merkel.


[13:10:05] AMANPOUR: So there she's addressing both issues, that Chancellor Merkel has been the European leader who stood up very, very firmly to Vladimir Putin and all of this non- Dependency, as she put it, on Russian natural gas. Germans apparently take about 35 percent or so of their natural gas from Russia.

And we understand from what you heard Jim Sciutto and our own John Defterios (ph) of CNN Money have basically said it's mostly about -- the president's complaints over this natural gas is mostly about a business concern. The United States would rather have that business action. The U.S. wants to be a big exporter of natural gas and they've even had talks about this pipeline in the past and clearly wants to supplant, as you've just heard, some of that.

But, I mean, all of this is incredibly acrimonious at a NATO summit where expectations amongst the leaders there have been very low given what happened in Canada at the G-7, Wolf.

BLITZER: And a good point.

Christiane, how is the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who's going to be meeting with President Trump in Helsinki on Monday, how is he reacting to what's going on right now?

AMANPOUR: Well, it's hard to know how he's reacting, but we do know that this is, as I put it to the American ambassador to NATO, was this music to Putin's ears? In other words, this idea that President Trump is sort of the disruptor, driving a wedge -- what is perceived to be driving a wedge through the western order, through the western alliance, which is something Vladimir Putin himself wants to do and it's happening, you know, thanks to the president of the United States. So I put that to her yesterday and this is what she told me.


KAY BAILEY HUTCHINSON, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Well, I think the discord is music to Putin's ears, but I do think that coming from this summit, which is allied, is strong and is going to increase our deterrent capabilities, that is going to, I think, put President Trump in a very strong position with President Putin. And I think he will be tough with President Putin.


AMANPOUR: So, Wolf, trying to thread a very difficult needle there. She's admitting that this sort of discord is not helpful when it comes to a united front against Vladimir Putin and his actions. And, remember, this whole NATO re-engineering of their budgets was because of Vladimir Putin's action in 2014, annexing Crimea, invading eastern Ukraine. But she, you know, diplomatically tries to say that all of this bluster by President Trump is a strategy with which to go into the meeting with Putin from a position of strength.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour, thank you very much.

And we're showing our viewers some live pictures now from Brussels. The president and other members of the delegation are going to be arriving for this big dinner tonight. We're going to have live coverage of the photo opportunity. There you see the president and the first lady walking over.

Let's just listen in for a moment here if they say anything.

BLITZER: Well, clearly, we can't hear the small talk that's going on right now. They're walking in to this dinner. We're going to have live pictures coming in from there momentarily.

But, Josh Rogin, the headlines so far, 2 percent, not enough. There was a commitment that the NATO allies made in 2014 over the next decade, until 2024. They would each reach that 2 percent of GDP goal for defense spending. Now the president today, all of a sudden, says that's not enough, it's got to be 4 percent.

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. What President Trump is doing is setting unreasonable demands unilaterally and then insulting our allies when they push back against those demands. It's profoundly counterproductive. It has no chance of actually working. But what it does do is advance the president's seeming goal, which is to further deepen the crisis between U.S. and our European allies at this crucial time. And that problem is a continuation of the ongoing U.S. crisis with our relationships with Europe that President Trump has been intentionally public and privately feeding for many months.

And this has our European allies totally flummoxed and in panic. And, you know, you could talk to any of them, they'll tell you the same thing, they don't understand why the president of the United States is insulting them, setting unreasonable demands and going out of his way to set bad optics at a summit which its only point is to show unity in the alliance, which is now obviously impossible. It's really a worst case scenario for them and, I would argue, a worst case scenario for the United States national security as well.

[13:15:25] And, Robin Wright, anxious to know what you think, because usually these NATO summits are very nice. They talk about substance. But this is a pretty extraordinary moment that the president of the United States shows up, even in advance, he's criticizing the NATO allies and specifically today Germany.

ROBIN WRIGHT, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER: Oh, it's quite extraordinary. And I think Josh is right, there is a great nervousness in Europe. Not just about issues of how much money they're putting into their defense budgets, but really about the core challenges when it comes to the security interests of the west. Whether it's the Ukraine and Russia's aggression, its annexation of the Crimea, whether it's, what do you do next on Syria as the war seems to be winding down and the Russians seem to have won, what do you do next?

You know, what do we do next with the Iran nuclear deal? It's -- the United States has pulled a rug out from underneath that. And there is a huge split in what is the most important military alliance, not just in the world, but in history. And the sense that President Trump has spent most of his time challenging the people who are our allies, not putting on the table or for public discussion these critical issues that will determine the security of all these nations.

BLITZER: You know, Max Boot, they are trying to be diplomatic and nice about the words they're hearing from the president of the United States, the NATO allies. But I can only imagine what's going through their minds right now.

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: No, I suspect the thought bubble over all the European leaders' heads is, why does he hate us? What have we ever done to this guy? Why does he have it out for us? And, you know, Donald Trump has various excuses for why he's attacking the Europeans. But I think we really need to see these as excuses.

He complains, for example, about the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is a legitimate issue, but he's not doing it in a constructive way to talk about, how do we change the energy delivery to Europe. He's doing it as a way to bash Germany, just as he does with complaints about the defense budget and their spending, which gives the impression that the Europeans aren't spending anything on defense, whereas in fact they have, about $250 billion in spending. They have about 2 million troops under arms. We -- the United States has about 60,000 troops in European.

So it's not as if the cases that we're doing all the defense and they're not defending themselves at all. He never acknowledges the contributions they make in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. He just seems to be using these issues as an excuse to destabilize the alliance. And I think a lot of Europeans are concerned that he wants to kill the alliance. And so I think, you know, they are greeting him with great concern, as he is stomping across the continent.

BLITZER: And, you know, April Ryan, you see more world leaders arriving now for this traditional state dinner that they're about to have in Brussels over at NATO headquarters.


BLITZER: They're serving some champagne, it looks like. I suspect some of those world leaders would like something a little stiffer right now.

RYAN: Something to take the edge off, right?


Go ahead.

RYAN: Well, you know, it's amazing watching the world leaders come in, in their vehicles and still the power and the strength to see the beast, the vehicle that the president of the United States comes in. It's still larger. It's still more, I guess, it's more forceful in its look.

But in the midst of all of that, as we show a stance of strength, there is a word called division. And that division is punctuated by what he's saying about Angela Merkel.

BLITZER: This, by the way, is President Erdogan of Turkey.

RYAN: Yes.

BLITZER: Who's arriving now. Turkey, of course, is a member of NATO --

RYAN: NATO, yes.

BLITZER: Although there's a lot of controversy there.

RYAN: And, again, division is punctuated by what's being said.

I mean you have Angela Merkel, I mean, one of the veterans of NATO right now, going against her and trying to basically throw her under the bus when it comes to Russia as he is under a cloud with Russia and getting ready to meet with Putin.

And I also think about what Christiane Amanpour said about President Trump being a disruptor. European leaders have long said that this president is a disruptor. I mean I remember a couple of months ago at the E.U. headquarters, E.U. -- the E.U. The European Union headquarters when we had dinner with the European Union ambassador, O'Sullivan, and he basically said, you know, they do not know where President Trump is coming from. He is a disruptor.

And this just further puts a punctuation mark on what's happening in these last two days. There's no reason for this division right now when the world needs -- we all need to come together at a time such as this.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, yesterday, Josh, the U.S. Senate voted 97-2 in favor of a resolution, a nonbinding resolution, of total support for NATO. The House of Representatives, I suspect, is going to do something very, very similar. Why are they -- why did they determine this is necessary right now?

[13:20:00] ROGIN: Well, it's because President Trump is simply outside the bipartisan norm of every U.S. president since World War II. He doesn't believe, and he doesn't agree, that the system of international alliances that has formed the basis of peace, security and stability in the United States and Europe for the last 80 years is delivering the benefits to the United States that he wants. He doesn't believe it does more good than bad. He's alone -- not alone but at least isolated inside the national security community in that view. And there is a lot of people who are shocked and dismayed about that all over Washington, apparently 97 out of 99 senators as well and 98 if you count John McCain, who I'm sure would have supported that resolution.

But this is an unfixable problem. There's not an amount of resolutions that's going to convince Trump that our alliances are valuable to America. Even his own national security staff can't convince him. The first round couldn't convince him. Doesn't seem like Bolton and Pompeo are going to be able to convince him. If they're trying, they're not trying hard enough.

And what we get is, you know, a president who's just running roughshod, burning American credibility, burning America's reputation in Europe and forcing all of these European leaders to come to a position where they have to oppose the United States because what the president of the United States is saying is so out of bounds and so insulting and so intentionally antagonistic. And that creates this really downward spiral in the relationship that nobody knows where it's going to go but it poses severe risks for our diplomatic or national security and our economic relationships that we don't even begin to understand.

RYAN: And I think that's very true, Wolf, because I think about 9/11. We had the world come in and walk with us and cried with us. And when something like that happens, and we are at odds with other world leaders and other world communities, what happens then? You know, It's not about if but a matter of when for something catastrophic to happen once again here. And where would the world leaders stand as we are causing a division.

They were our allies. They came and they helped. They brought -- they brought teams to help find people, rescue and recovery. They did so much. And now it's like they're looking at us with a side eye, like, can I trust you?

WRIGHT: But there's also -- there's a much better -- bigger cost, and that is, Europe itself is fragile right now.

RYAN: Yes.

WRIGHT: You have Britain negotiating its exit.

RYAN: Yes.

WRIGHT: You have kind of political division. You have the rise of more authoritarian rule in a place like Turkey. And so you -- the fate of Europe, really, which is something we just wanted to build in the aftermath of two world wars to make sure there were no further wars in Europe.

RYAN: Yes.

WRIGHT: And so the cost of this long term, this is not something you flip a switch and you repair overnight. You see the unraveling, whether it's the weakening of Angela Merkel, who is, in many ways, the most outspoken voice for democracy anywhere in the west.

RYAN: Or Theresa May.

WRIGHT: And Theresa May is now in deep political trouble, which is, you know, our closest ally. So there are a lot of things that the repercussions of this, meanwhile, as we belittle our allies, we strengthen the hand of Vladimir Putin. And not just going into the summit next week, but it is long term. The fact that this was an alliance formed to confront Russia and now we're actually helping empower it.

BOOT: And it's really striking to me which European countries raise Donald Trump's ire. He keeps going on and on about Germany, which is our reliable democratic ally, the stalwart of Europe. He doesn't have anything to say about Erdogan, who he's pals with at this summit, who is authoritarian, who has destroyed Turkish democracy and who is getting close to Russia. He has nothing to say about the governments in Hungary and Poland that are undermining their democracy. The governments in Italy and in Hungary, which are drawing closer to Russia. Those are the real threats to European unity, as is Europe, the British, the Brexit crowd in the U.K., pulling the U.K. out of the European Union. That's something that Donald Trump encourages. And he constantly bad mouths Europe as being, quote/unquote, as bad as China. So he really stands in opposition to decades and decades of U.S. foreign policy, which was encouraged to Europe, strong and free and democratic. He doesn't seem to care about any of that.

BLITZER: They're mingling right now in advance of this state dinner at the NATO alliance in Brussels. We're going to take a quick break, resume our special live coverage right after this.


[13:28:33] BLITZER: The leaders of the NATO alliance have gathered in Brussels. They're about to sit down for a formal dinner, take another class photo, family photo as they're now calling it. We're going to have live coverage of that.

There you see Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, speaking with Melania Trump, the first lady of the United States. They're having a little conversation. Everybody seems to be having a little conversation over there, April. It's sort of a good feeling before they sit down for the dinner. But behind the scenes there's a lot of tension.

RYAN: Yes, I don't know how she's doing it. We just watched Angela Merkel talking to the first lady. We don't see her talking to the president as of yet. Well, we might have seen that a little while ago. But that -- it's still tense, but you have to keep -- you have to keep a stiff upper lip for relations in the midst of the moment of these arrows going back and forth. And you see the first lady, Melania Trump, talking with Angela Merkel. I mean women talking to women. Two powerful world leaders. I mean even though Melania Trump is not an elected official, she is the confidante of the president of the United States, if you will. The leader of the free world at this moment. They are talking. I mean that is a winning picture of sorts in the midst of this anger, this tenseness where the president is pushing back at Angela Merkel.

BLITZER: A couple of moments ago you saw the arrival of the president and the first lady at this dinner. They're going through a little pre- dinner reception and then they're going to be sitting down for a formal dinner.

[13:29:59] You know, the president's comments, latest comments, Max, about NATO, we shouldn't be very surprised because for a long, long time he has berated NATO, questioned NATO, doesn't like the fact that the U.S. spends so much of its GDP on defense.