Top German officials are voicing sharp criticisms of U.S. President Donald Trump ahead of next week's NATO summit even as Trump is vowing to push hard for Germany and other European nations to meet NATO's defense spending goals.
The top German officials expressed their frank criticism in interviews with media published on July 6, one day after Trump told a rally of supporters that Americans have been "schmucks" for paying a large share of Germany's and NATO's defense bills.
Trump directly addressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the rally in the U.S. state of Montana, saying: "You know, Angela...we are protecting you and it means a lot more to you...because I don't know how much protection we get by protecting you."
Trump criticized Merkel for pursuing oil and gas deals with Russia that provide Moscow with "billions and billions of dollars" while looking to the United States to protect Germany from Russia's military.
"And we are the schmucks who pay for the whole thing," he said, using slang for "fools." Trump said Washington allocates about 4 per cent of U.S. economic output to defense spending while Germany has set a goal of 1.5 percent. NATO's stated goal is 2 percent.
"I’m going to tell NATO, you gotta start paying your bills. The United States is not going to take care of everything," Trump said.
Top German lawmakers and officials, in return, are lobbing a volley of criticism at Trump, with some even questioning his loyalty to NATO.
Christian Lindner, head of the pro-business Free Democrats, told Deutschlandfunk in an interview that he did not trust Trump.
"He is too volatile... Within 24 hours, Mr. Trump can change his position by 180 degrees," said Lindner, although he warned against growing anti-American sentiments in Germany given that the United States was and would remain Germany's closest ally.
Wolfgang Ischinger, head of the Munich Security Conference and a former German envoy to Washington, said it is possible that Trump could refuse to sign a communique at the July 15 NATO summit in Brussels, mirroring what he did at a recent Group of Seven summit.
"It cannot be ruled out," Ischinger told the German newspaper Die Welt.
Despite Trump's criticism, Ischinger said the transatlantic alliance is in its best shape in years, given rising military spending and efforts to shore up defenses in the Baltic states and Poland after Russia's illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
Peter Beyer, transatlantic coordinator for Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition, told a German newspaper chain that he is concerned that NATO states were not included in the planning for Trump's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16, a day after the NATO summit.
"There are great concerns in the alliance about what agreements Trump and Putin could reach," Beyer told Funke Mediengruppe newspapers.
Beyer, in unusually frank remarks, told the newspaper that Trump's recent summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore has fueled concerns that Trump would let Putin "put one over on him" in Helsinki.
"Kim has only made promises thus far. We don't know if he has stopped enriching uranium. Only Trump has billed the summit as such as a success," said Beyer, a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats party.