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Live Updates: NATO Chief Vows Unity at Celebration, Despite Tensions


Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, spoke before the meetings on Wednesday, acknowledging the external and internal pressures facing the alliance but insisting that it was agile and strong enough to deal with them.

Speaking outside the Grove Hotel in Watford, England, Mr. Stoltenberg laid out an ambitious agenda for the leaders from North America and Europe: the international fight against terrorism, arms control, combating Russia, and, for the first time, the rise of China.

Mr. Stoltenberg said that China’s growing global power offered “both opportunities but also challenges,” citing a buildup in military capabilities as a looming threat.

But NATO is not only facing emerging superpowers outside the alliance: It also has deep internal divisions and disputes. Those tensions were on full display on Tuesday during an exchange between President Trump and President Emmanuel Macron of France, who laid out dueling visions for the alliance.

Asked about what he made of earlier comments from Mr. Macron, who said last month that NATO was suffering from “brain death,” Mr. Stoltenberg vigorously defended the 70-year-old institution.

“That’s not the case,” Mr. Stoltenberg said. “NATO is agile. NATO is active. NATO is adapting. NATO is the most effective alliance in history.”

Mr. Stoltenberg said that differences among the heads of the alliance’s member states were nothing new, citing disputes over the Suez crisis of 1956 and more recently the war in Iraq.

“There’s always been differences,” he said. “What we have proven and what we also show today is NATO is able to overcome these differences.”

Widespread anxiety prevailed in the run-up to NATO’s celebration of its 70th anniversary that President Trump, whose criticism of the alliance as obsolete is well-known, would upend the meeting with a surprise demand or an insult of an ally, as he has done before.

But Mr. Trump found himself in the unusual position of defending NATO after an uproar created by President Emmanuel Macron of France, who told The Economist last month that NATO was suffering “brain death” because of what he described as an absence of American leadership under Mr. Trump.

In a meeting on Tuesday morning with NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, Mr. Trump called Mr. Macron’s comments “very insulting” and a “very, very nasty statement essentially to 28 countries.”

Later, in a meeting with Mr. Macron at the American ambassador’s residence in London, the French leader put Mr. Trump on the defensive not only about his vision for NATO, but also about his handling of a military conflict involving Turkey, the quandary about what to do with captured foreign Islamic State fighters in Syria and a trade dispute between France and the United States.

Mr. Macron was unapologetic. In a Twitter posting later, he acknowledged that his comments had provoked reactions, but said that “we need to be clear about the foundations of NATO. Tomorrow, I will defend the interests of France and Europe.”

As he arrived for Wednesday’s meeting, Mr. Macron was again asked about his “brain death” comment, and stood by it. “In fact it allowed us to raise some crucial debates,” he said.

“I think it was our responsibility to raise ambiguities that could be harmful, and to tackle a real strategic debate,” he added. “It has started, I am satisfied.”

President Trump took an uncharacteristically reserved approach upon his arrival at The Grove, the resort just outside of London where NATO leaders are meeting on Wednesday. He tweeted just once before the gathering, offering friendly words for Boris Johnson, the British prime minister who is hosting the meeting.

Mr. Johnson’s political future is on the line in a parliamentary election on Dec. 12, and in the run-up to the vote, the Conservative prime minister has sought to keep the president at arm’s length.

In past visits, Mr. Trump has made his hosts uncomfortable with no-holds-barred assessments of the state of British politics, and he has both praised Mr. Johnson and disparaged his main opponent, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

But this time, he has shown a degree of restraint, refraining from commenting, in news conferences or on Twitter, about the election or the competitors.

Mr. Trump, unlike most of his counterparts, did not speak to reporters ahead of the meeting.

A group of NATO leaders woke up on Wednesday with some explaining to do, after a brief video surfaced that showed a small group of them at a Buckingham Palace reception the night before, expressing dismay at Mr. Trump’s behavior earlier that day.

In the video, which was posted online overnight, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada is heard commiserating with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, about how Mr. Trump conducted himself during the first day of the two-day NATO summit.

Mr. Johnson turned to the French president with a grin and asks, “Is that why you were late?” It was unclear exactly what preceded the question.

Mr. Trudeau then said to the group, “he was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference at the top,” an apparent reference to one of Mr. Trump’s long exchanges with reporters on Tuesday.

“You just watch his team’s jaws drop to the floor,” Mr. Trudeau says at another point. Mr. Macron cannot be heard, but is seen speaking and gesturing animatedly.

None of the world leaders, who do not appear to know they are being recorded, mentioned Mr. Trump by name, potentially giving them a bit of deniability about appearing to mock a powerful but unpredictable partner. Mr. Trump appeared to arrive late on Wednesday morning for the meeting, where Mr. Johnson and Mr. Stoltenberg greeted each NATO leader individually for a ceremonial handshake in front of the news media.

A perturbed Mr. Johnson asked how long it would take and gestured to the wall of cameras, saying, “We’re live now.”

“A half an hour? Forty-five minutes?” Mr. Johnson joked.

After a few awkward minutes, in which the prime minister and Mr. Stoltenberg rocked back and forth on their heels with their hands behind their backs, President Trump finally walked on stage, smiling as he shook their hands.

President Trump, whose administration has threatened to raise tariffs on French goods in retaliation for France’s tax on tech companies like Google and Amazon, will find a similar target for his ire in Britain.

Britain is scheduled to begin imposing its own tax on the revenues of technology companies in April.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, campaigning in Salisbury on Tuesday ahead of the country’s general election next week, said he deplored Mr. Trump’s threats over trade and maintained that he would push for freer markets. He also appeared to want to push on with Britain’s plans.

“I do think we need to look at the operations of the big digital companies and the huge revenues they make in the U.K. and the amount of tax they pay,” Mr. Johnson said, according to local media reports. “We need to sort that out. They need to make a fairer contribution.”

Companies that run social media platforms, internet marketplaces and search engines will face a 2 percent tax rate on sales made in Britain. Currently they pay tax only on the profits they record in the country.

When the new tax was announced in October 2018, the British government estimated that it would raise 1.5 billion pounds, or more than $1.9 billion, over four years.

The tax was aimed squarely at global technology companies, said Philip Hammond, the chancellor of the Exchequer at the time. “It is only right that these global giants with profitable businesses in the U.K. pay their fair share towards supporting our public services,” he said.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which includes Britain, France and the United States, has been working to reach a common position on taxing technology companies and other multinational businesses.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s primary role at the meeting of NATO heads of state is to support President Trump. As it happened, Mr. Trump threw a little support to the whisper campaign surrounding a possible run by Mr. Pompeo next year for the United States Senate from Kansas.

Mr. Pompeo, a former congressman from Kansas, has repeatedly said that he would remain at the helm of the State Department as long as Mr. Trump wanted. On Tuesday, the president left the door wide open for Mr. Pompeo to exit.

“He’s a tremendous guy, doing a tremendous job,” Mr. Trump told reporters at Winfield House, the official residence of the United States ambassador to Britain.

With Mr. Pompeo standing nearby, the president continued: “If I thought we were going to lose that seat — because we shouldn’t lose that seat, it’s a great state, it’s a state that I won overwhelmingly, as you know, we shouldn’t lose that state — then I would sit down and talk to Mike.”

Republicans have held both of the Senate seats from Kansas since 1932. But last year’s election of a Democratic governor — a victory delivered by swing voters in Kansas City’s suburbs — and a potentially divisive Republican primary have raised the possibility of a contested Senate race there in 2020. Mr. Pompeo has until June 1 to declare his candidacy.

Mr. Pompeo has otherwise kept a low profile at the NATO events. He met on Tuesday with the British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, for nearly 40 minutes in what American officials described as a discussion about Iran, 5G networks and the potential for a “robust” bilateral trade agreement if Britain leaves the European Union. Mr. Pompeo also expressed his condolences over last week’s fatal stabbings near London Bridge, which the authorities have described as a terrorist attack.

Conspicuously absent from the State Department’s description of the meeting was mention of Harry Dunn, a 19-year-old Briton who died in August when his motorbike collided with a car that was believed to have been driven by the wife of an American diplomat, on the wrong side of the road. Mr. Dunn’s parents are suing the Trump administration, which has so far refused to extradite the suspected driver, Anne Sacoolas, who has claimed diplomatic immunity.

Following the NATO meeting, Mr. Pompeo will travel to Lisbon, Portugal, where he plans to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

Katie Rogers, Lara Jakes, Annie Karni, Megan Specia and Amie Tsang contributed reporting.



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