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Transatlantic ties hang in the balance as Trump comes to Europe

Reuters  |  BRUSSELS/WASHINGTON 

By Robin and Lesley Wroughton

BRUSSELS/(Reuters) - European leaders say they no longer have any illusions about as they welcome the U.S. at a NATO summit this week, but they fear his "first" agenda may force a moment of reckoning that works to no-one's benefit.

After searching for stability and familiarity in U.S. foreign policy in Trump's first year in office, America's friends in have come to accept the as an unpredictable political insurgent. But that does not make it any easier to see their own priorities undermined.

Germany's warned in a recent speech that "old pillars of reliability are crumbling", in a veiled reference to the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal to tariffs on EU metals exports and the threat of more to come on cars.

On NATO's old foe Russia, the administration has sent mixed messages by intensifying a U.S. military build-up in while railing against fellow NATO members on defence spending and failing to coordinate on new sanctions on in 2017.

The U.S. - the de facto of the nearly 70-year-old - has indicated what his message will be at the two-day meeting from Wednesday: other governments must dramatically step up military spending and lower import tariffs.

"I'm going to tell NATO: You've got to start paying your bills. The is not going to take care of everything," Trump told a rally last week, adding: "They kill us on trade."

U.S. officials and politicians regularly say spends 70 percent of its defence budget on NATO, a claim that is flatly denied in One senior EU said the number is more like 15 percent. Like many of the officials and diplomats quoted for this story, he asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak on the record.

EU officials also contend EU tariffs on most U.S. imports are already low.

A disastrous NATO summit could provide even worse optics than the divisive meeting in June, especially if a scheduled meeting with Russia's in on July 16 is more convivial, NATO diplomats said.

Wess Mitchell, of state for European affairs, told diplomats and NATO officials in a recent speech in that Trump was taking a new approach to problems that have festered for years, such as the peace process - even if it means going it alone.

"In the actions we take, we are hoping to spur a multilateral response to address some of the world's toughest challenges," Mitchell said.

He was echoing private comments made earlier to senior EU diplomats in by Fiona Hill, a top at the U.S. National Security Council, which were described to Hill sought to place Trump's policy decisions into a coherent whole, they said.

"It came as shock. We realised Trump cares little for the coordinated U.S.-EU foreign policy of the past," said one present. "We are stuck without U.S. leadership."

FEELING IGNORED

At a reception in June celebrating 100 years of American and European partnership in Brussels, Washington's top to the European Union, Adam Shub, sought to highlight common ground, even on issues such as trade and The gesture met with muttered disagreement from EU diplomats in the room.

Asked about transatlantic tensions, NATO has cited the 1956 Suez Crisis and the 2003 war as examples of policy disagreements that have been overcome.

EU officials say Trump appears uninterested in solutions, however. They say he ignored top-level talks between EU envoys and U.S. trade and State Department officials this year to avoid and keep Washington in the deal.

On defence, Europe and have tried to show they are responding to Trump's demands. Defence budgets in European NATO members, and are expected to rise by almost 4 percent in 2018, a nearly $90 billion cumulative increase since 2015.

That may not be enough to keep Trump from raising the stakes again next week, a senior U.S. defence said recently.

"There is a better-than 50-50 chance that the president will disrupt the NATO summit, probably by complaining again that others aren't carrying their fair share of the burden, and possibly by threatening to withdraw if they don't step up on his terms," the told

Two senior NATO diplomats told they are prepared for a worst-case scenario that Trump would announce a freeze on U.S. military exercises or withdraw troops from the in a gesture to Putin.

"EXISTENTIAL MOMENT"

One senior U.S. State Department official said Trump's foreign policy closely hews to Republican thinking in Washington and that tensions had been high for some time.

The official added that despite the current strains, the administration "deeply values this relationship."

"These are our closest allies and we really appreciate their support. There has been this tension, which has been a long-running factor ... but I'm pretty positive on the relationship overall," the State Department official said.

Trump's May 8 decision to pull out of Iran accord was a severe setback that has led to talk among EU officials of an "existential moment" in European diplomacy.

They say it also shows that EU efforts to develop a relationship with the White House, including high-profile visits by the French President and German Angela Merkel, have largely failed.

That leaves the EU seeking other alliances, including closer ties with and help from and to keep money connected to the nuclear deal flowing to

"We used to roll our eyes at Trump's policies but now we are seeing the craziness becoming strategic," another senior EU who was at the Hill meeting said. "We now have to seek out all kinds of partners to further our goals."

(Additional reporting by and in Washington and Alissa de Carbonnel in Brussels; Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sun, July 08 2018. 13:59 IST
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