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Ahead Of NATO's 70th Anniversary, Alliance Chief To Meet With Trump

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

NATO is throwing a birthday party for itself in Washington, D.C., and there's one person on the guest list who is capable of putting a damper on celebrations. President Trump has had a fraught relationship with NATO from the beginning. Today Trump will meet with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. The question is whether or not the president decides to bring up his frequent complaints about the alliance.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There are many countries that take advantage of us very seriously, both at NATO and on trade. And we're paying for almost the entire cost of NATO. We're paying for a very, very substantial portion. Far greater than what it should be. And we want to protect 'em but they got to pay their bills.

MARTIN: NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe is with us this morning. Hi, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So what are they going to talk about, Trump and Stoltenberg? I mean, I can't imagine that the president's not going to bring up these grievances.

RASCOE: Well, clearly, as you just heard, one of President Trump's favorite subjects is the idea that allies need to carry their own weight financially. And when it comes to NATO, that means paying 2 percent of GDP on defense spending. That's supposed to happen by 2024. The White House is saying that at this meeting with the secretary-general, the president wants to highlight what they view as a success, and that's that more members of NATO are increasing their defense budgets.

MARTIN: Right. We should point out, though, this isn't exclusive to the Trump administration. I remember being at NATO headquarters and hearing Bob Gates, then-secretary of defense for President Obama, issuing the same warning to NATO countries. It's just that this time, it's the principal. It's President Trump who's making this demand.

RASCOE: That is the big difference here. In other administrations, it was not the president, and it was not so blunt as you hear with President Trump. And you do have - they are actually spending more. But the problem is, the vast majority of members still have not met that 2 percent goal, and some are not on track to even meet that target by 2024. And Germany, for example, who has kind of been on President Trump's bad side, said that it would try to meet a target of 1.5 percent by 2024, which is below 2 percent, obviously.

MARTIN: Right.

RASCOE: But last month, there were reports of falling tax revenue accompanied by projections that they wouldn't even meet that goal. So that's not something that Trump is going to be happy about. And he's made a habit of calling out Germany. The U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, told reporters yesterday that she talked with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and was assured that they will meet at least the 1.5 percent target.

MARTIN: The other issue is that it's not just the money, right, that President Trump has a beef about. He has called into question NATO's very existence.

RASCOE: Yes. He was saying before - when he was running for president, he said that NATO was obsolete, and basically they were focused on the Cold War, they needed to be focused more on, you know, other threats, terrorism, and that they were kind of antiquated. But now as president, he's kind of changed his tune. He says, thanks to him, they're no longer obsolete. And publicly, he said that the U.S. is a hundred percent behind NATO. The problem is, because he's focused on this kind of transactional type of relationship, it's rubbed some allies the wrong way. And so you've had some tensions within the alliance.

MARTIN: Right. NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe for us this morning. Ayesha, thank you so much.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.