Last Updated: 2018-07-12
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BRUSSELS, July 12 (NNN-XINHUA) -- The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit opened here Wednesday with verbal fireworks as recent tensions between the United States and allies were laid bare by President Donald Trump in a growing row over burden-sharing and foreign influence.

Setting the tone for the summit's first day, President Trump made waves Wednesday morning at a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg when he accused Germany of being under the sway of Russian interests.

"Germany is totally controlled by Russia because they will be getting 60 to 70 per cent of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline," Trump told reporters, calling the alleged dependence on Russian energy "inappropriate".

EU figures show Russia may be responsible for between 50 per cent and 75 per cent of Germany's gas imports, but gas makes up less than 20 per cent of Germany's energy mix.

"On top of that, Germany is just paying just a little bit over one per cent of GDP (gross domestic product) on NATO defence contributions whereas the United States is paying 4.2 per cent of a much larger GDP. So I think that's inappropriate also," Trump stated.

According to the latest NATO estimates, Germany spends 1.24 per cent of GDP on defence, while the US spends 3.5 per cent.

The claims stem from criticisms about burden-sharing which Trump has made since just prior to his inauguration in January 2017. In addition to referring to NATO as "obsolete" at the time, he blasted allies for not meeting their 2.0 per cent defense spending commitments.

Since his inauguration, Trump has argued that fellow NATO allies have been leaving the US to foot the bill for their joint defence. According to NATO figures, only five of the 29 alliance members have met defence spending targets this year -- Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Britain and the US.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hit back at Trump just a few hours after his remarks, arriving at NATO headquarters to say that Germany had contributed a lot to the defence alliance.

"Germany is the second largest provider of troops, the largest part of our military capacity is offered to NATO and until today we have a strong engagement towards Afghanistan," Merkel said, adding: "In that we also defend the interests of the United States."

She also addressed the accusation of Russian influence, saying: "I have experienced myself how a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union. I am very happy that today we are united in freedom, the Federal Republic of Germany.

"Because of that we can say that we can make our independent policies and make independent decisions. That is very good, especially for people in eastern Germany."

In remarks later during the summit, however, President Trump stepped up pressure on allies over burden sharing, calling on allies to double defence spending targets to four per cent, the White House confirmed.

"I think we should first get to 2 percent, focus on that now ... the good thing is that we are moving to that," NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg told reporters, without speaking directly to Trump's comments.

The US president has been the source of concern for many European allies, in and out of NATO, with European Council President Donald Tusk warning Trump Tuesday to "appreciate your allies, after all you don't have that many", and reminding that "America does not have, and will not have a better ally than Europe".

The spike in tensions comes as President Trump is preparing for his first-ever summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, in less than a week, sparking worry among allies.

Meanwhile, the first day of the NATO summit also saw allies trying to strengthen the defence bloc, with several decisions made related to improved capacity, and even a formal invitation to Macedonia to join as the newest member of the organization.

Praising new initiatives to build capacity, Stoltenberg estimated that as much as 2an additional 66 billion USD would be spent by European allies and Canada on defence by 2024.

He also announced the agreement of "Readiness Initiative," including the "Four Thirties" to be ready by 2020 -- 30 mechanized battalions, 30 air squadrons, and 30 combat vessels, ready for use in 30 days or less.

The two-day NATO summit will continue in Brussels on Thursday, with meetings between allies and the presidents of Georgia and Ukraine. -- NNN-XINHUA