Trump claims Germany ‘controlled’ by Russia; Merkel has sharp reply

US President Donald Trump, right, holds a breakfast meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, at the NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium on Wednesday, July 11. (Reuters)
Updated 11 July 2018
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Trump claims Germany ‘controlled’ by Russia; Merkel has sharp reply

  • “We’re supposed to protect you against Russia but they’re paying billions of dollars to Russia and I think that’s very inappropriate”
  • On the eve of the NATO summit, European Council President Donald Tusk pushed back against Trump’s constant criticism of European allies

BRUSSELS: In a combative start to his NATO visit, President Donald Trump asserted Wednesday that a pipeline project has made Germany “totally controlled” by and “captive to Russia” and blasted NATO allies’ defense spending, opening what was expected to be a fraught summit with a list of grievances involving American allies.
Trump, in a testy exchange with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, took issue with the US protecting Germany when the European nation is making deals with Russia.
“I have to say, I think it’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia where we’re supposed to be guarding against Russia,” Trump said during a breakfast with Stoltenberg, his first event since arriving in Brussels. “We’re supposed to protect you against Russia but they’re paying billions of dollars to Russia and I think that’s very inappropriate.”

Meanwhile, Chancellor Angela Merkel recalled her own youth in Soviet-dominated East Germany and said Germany was independent in its policy choices, in a pointed response to Trump saying Berlin was a “totally controlled by Russia.”

Merkel told reporters on arrival at a NATO summit in Brussels on Wednesday: “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.”

The US president appeared to be referring to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would bring gas from Russia to Germany’s northeastern Baltic coast, bypassing Eastern European nations like Poland and Ukraine and doubling the amount of gas Russia can send directly to Germany. The vast undersea pipeline is opposed by the US and some other EU members, who warn it could give Moscow greater leverage over Western Europe.
Trump said that, “Germany, as far as I’m concerned, is captive to Russia” and urged NATO to look into the issue. Trump, who has been accused of being too cozy with Putin — a man accused of US election meddling — was expected to see Merkel later in the day.
Stoltenberg pushed back, stressing that NATO members have been able to work together despite their differences.
The dramatic exchange set the tone for what was already expected to be a tense day of meetings with leaders of the military alliance. Trump is expected to continue hammering jittery NATO allies about their military spending during the summit meeting, which comes amid increasingly frayed relations between the “America first” president and the United States’ closest traditional allies.
“The United States is paying far too much and other countries are not paying enough, especially some. So we’re going to have a meeting on that,” Trump said as he arrived at the breakfast, describing the situation as “disproportionate and not fair to the taxpayers of the United States and we’re going to make it fair.”
“They will spend more,” he later predicted. “I have great confidence they’ll be spending more.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced hours after the exchange over Germany that Trump would meet later Wednesday with Merkel, as well as with French President Emmanuel Macron. Journalists will not be allowed to cover either meeting, she said.
Trump has been pushing NATO members to reach their agreed-to target of spending 2 percent of their gross domestic products on national defense by 2024 and has accused those who don’t of freeloading off the US.
“Many countries in NATO, which we are expected to defend, are not only short of their current commitment of 2% (which is low), but are also delinquent for many years in payments that have not been made,” he tweeted Tuesday while en route to Europe, asking: “Will they reimburse the US?”
That’s not how the spending words. The 2 percent represents the amount each country aims to spend on its own defense, not some kind of direct payment to NATO or the US
NATO estimates that 15 members, or just over half, will meet the benchmark by 2024 based on current trends.
During his campaign, Trump called NATO “obsolete” and suggested the US might not come to the defense of members if they found themselves under attack — a shift that would represent a fundamental realignment of the modern world order. He also called Brussels a “hell hole” and “a mess.” Trump has moderated his language somewhat since taking office, but has continued to dwell on the issue, even as many NATO members have agreed to up their spending.
Stoltenberg, for his part, credited Trump for spurring NATO nations to spend more on defense, noting that the Europeans and Canada are projected to spend around $266 billion more by 2024.
“We all agree that we have to do more,” he said, describing last year as marking the biggest increase in defense spending across Europe and Canada in a generation.
Trump interjected, asking Stoltenberg why he thought that had happened.
“It’s also because of your leadership, because your clear message,” Stoltenberg responded.
Trump took credit for the spending, telling the NATO chief that “because of me they’ve raised about $40 billion over the last year. So, I think the secretary general likes Trump. He may be the only one, but that’s OK with me.”
Trump was also participating in a welcome ceremony, a meeting of the North Atlantic Council and a working dinner with some of the same leaders he berated over trade during his last world leaders summit in Canada last month.
Brussels is the first stop of a weeklong European tour that will include stops in London and Scotland, as well as a highly anticipated meeting next week with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Trump predicted as he departed Washington that the “easiest” leg of his journey would be his scheduled sit-down Putin — a comment that did little to reassure allies fretting over his potential embrace of a Russian leader US intelligence officials accuse of meddling in the 2016 elections to help Trump win.
On the eve of the NATO summit, European Council President Donald Tusk pushed back against Trump’s constant criticism of European allies and urged him to remember who his friends are when he meets with Putin in Helsinki.
“Dear America, appreciate your allies, after all you don’t have all that many,” he said.


India’s ruling party seeks to energise workers after state losses

“We realize that rural distress and employment generation are the key issues and we are working on them,” said BJP spokesman Gopal Krishna Agarwal. (AFP)
Updated 14 December 2018
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India’s ruling party seeks to energise workers after state losses

  • The government announces so-called minimum support prices for most crops to set a benchmark

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling BJP will try to canvass and galvanize its activists across India before a general election due next May, after losing power in three heartland rural states, senior leaders said after a meeting on Thursday.
Disgruntled voters blamed the slow pace of job creation and weak farm prices for the Hindu nationalist party’s defeat in the states, two of which it had ruled for three straight terms.
“We realize that rural distress and employment generation are the key issues and we are working on them,” said BJP spokesman Gopal Krishna Agarwal, who attended the meeting. “They’ll have to be tackled, and we will take suggestions from wherever needed.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) various wings — representing women, farmers, lower castes, Muslims and young members — will all hold deliberations after losses in the supposed stronghold states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
“These meetings are aimed at preparing for the 2019 election and spreading the party’s message in various sections of society,” Bhupender Yadav, a BJP national general secretary, said after the meeting, which he said had been scheduled before the state election results came out on Tuesday.
He also announced that a planned national convention would be held in New Delhi on Jan. 11 and 12.
Senior BJP minister Nitin Gadkari told the ET Now business channel on Thursday that the agriculture sector may have been neglected under their government.

JOBS AND FARM PRICES
Agarwal, a chartered accountant who is also a director in a state-run bank, said increasing lending for job-generating small businesses was a key focus, as was enhancing procurement of grain from farmers by government agencies at state-mandated prices so there are no distress sales.
The government announces so-called minimum support prices for most crops to set a benchmark, but state agencies mainly buy limited quantities of staples such as rice and wheat at those prices, restricting benefits of higher prices to only around 7 percent of India’s 263 million farmers, according to various studies.
Following the state election setbacks, Modi’s government is expected to announce loan waivers worth billions of dollars to woo farmers, government sources told Reuters this week.
Agarwal said the party’s loss in Madhya Pradesh, known for multiplying agriculture production under three BJP governments, has reinforced its realization that higher output helps consumers by bringing down prices, but can badly hurt farmers.
“The focus has so far been on consumers, like importing onions when prices shot up,” Agarwal said. “Now we need to look at the producers, not just the consumers.”
He also said there was a case for fiscal stimulus, given that inflation fell to a 17-month low in November. Food inflation sank to a negative 2.61 percent from a negative 0.86 percent in October, according to official data released on Wednesday.