In pointed letters, Trump demands more defense spending from NATO allies

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has written sharply worded letters to the leaders of several NATO allies, including Germany, Belgium, Norway and Canada, taking them to task for spending too little on their own defense and warning that the United States is losing patience with their failure to meet security obligations shared by the alliance.

The letters, which went out in June, are the latest sign of acrimony between Trump and U.S. allies as he heads to a NATO summit meeting next week in Brussels that will be a closely watched test of the president's commitment to the trans-Atlantic alliance after he has repeatedly questioned its value and claimed that its members are taking advantage of the United States.

They raised the prospect of a second bitterly contentious confrontation between the president and U.S. allies after a blowup by Trump at the Group of 7 gathering in June in Quebec, and highlighted the worries of European allies that far from projecting solidarity in the face of threats from Russia, their meeting will highlight divisions within the alliance. That would play into the hands of President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who is to meet with Trump in Helsinki after the NATO meeting, and whose prime goal is sowing divisions within NATO.

"As we discussed during your visit in April, there is growing frustration in the United States that some allies have not stepped up as promised," Trump wrote to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in a particularly pointed version of the letter, according to someone who saw it and shared excerpts with The New York Times. "Continued German underspending on defense undermines the security of the alliance and provides validation for other allies that also do not plan to meet their military spending commitments, because others see you as a role model."

In language that is repeated in letters to the leaders of other countries, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway, Trump said he understands the "domestic political pressure" brought to bear by opponents boosting military expenditures, noting that he has expended "considerable political capital to increase our own military spending."

The White House declined to comment on private presidential correspondence, but a White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity without authorization to speak about the letters, said that Trump is committed to the NATO alliance and expects allies to shoulder "their fair share of our common defense burden, and to do more in areas that most affect them."

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