Trump slams European allies before NATO summit in London

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg at Winfield House in London, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. (AP)
Updated 03 December 2019

Trump slams European allies before NATO summit in London

  • Trump warned he could see France ‘breaking off’ from the allies, after Macron in an interview criticized NATO’s leadership and strategy
  • Trump demanded that Europe pay more for defense and also make concessions to US interests on trade

LONDON: US President Donald Trump lashed out at European allies before a NATO anniversary summit in London on Tuesday, singling out France’s Emmanuel Macron for “very nasty” comments on the alliance and Germany for spending too little on defense.
Underlining the breadth of strife in a transatlantic bloc hailed by its backers as the most successful military alliance in history, Trump demanded that Europe pay more for defense and also make concessions to US interests on trade.
The attack echoed a similar tirade by Trump ahead of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s last summit in July 2018.
It will add to the growing doubts over the future of the 29-member alliance, described last month by Macron as “brain dead” in the run-up to a London meeting intended to be a 70th anniversary celebration.
“It’s a tough statement, though, when you make a statement like that, that is a very, very nasty statement to essentially 28, including them, 28 countries,” Trump told reporters as he met the head of NATO in London.
“Nobody needs NATO more than France,” he said, adding that France, where Macron is seeking to push through delicate reforms of a large state sector, was “not doing well economically.”
In an interview with the Economist last month, Macron made headlines by faulting NATO for failing to update its strategy to respond to newer threats such as instability in Syria.
Trump explicitly linked his complaint that Europe does not pay enough for NATO’s security missions to his staunch “America First” defense of US commercial interests, saying it was time for Europe to “shape up” on both fronts.
“It’s not right to be taken advantage of on NATO and also then to be taken advantage of on trade, and that’s what happens. We can’t let that happen,” he said of transatlantic disputes over everything from the aerospace sector to a European “digital tax” on US technology giants.
Dismissing recent signals from Germany that it was ready to do more to match a NATO target of spending two percent of national output on defense, Trump accused it and other nations which spend less than that of being “delinquent.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who shared omelette and sausages with Trump over breakfast, tweeted that the pre-summit talks had got off to an “excellent start.”
But the US leader’s broadside came only hours after splits opened up elsewhere in the alliance, with Turkey threatening to block a plan to defend Baltic states and Poland against Russian attacks unless the alliance backs Ankara in recognizing the Kurdish YPG militia as a terrorist group.
The YPG’s fighters have long been US allies on the ground against Islamic State in Syria. Turkey considers them an enemy because of links to Kurdish insurgents in southeastern Turkey.
“If our friends at NATO do not recognize as terrorist organizations those we consider terrorist organizations... we will stand against any step that will be taken there,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said before traveling to London.
Erdogan, who has already strained alliance ties with a move to buy Russian air defense systems, said he would meet Polish President Andrzej Duda and leaders of Baltic countries.
The question mark over the Baltics’ plan, which was drawn up at their request after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, raises issues about security on all of NATO’s frontiers.
Under NATO’s 1949 founding treaty, an attack on one ally is an attack on all, and the alliance has military strategies for collective defense across its territory.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday branded NATO’s continued expansion as pointless because the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 had removed the threat, and told a meeting of military leaders in Sochi that it was a danger for Russia.
While Trump hailed Turkey as a good NATO ally, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper earlier warned Ankara in a Reuters interview that “not everybody sees the threats that they see” and urged it to stop blocking the Baltics plan.
In a bid to placate Trump, Europe, Turkey and Canada will pledge $400 billion in defense spending by 2024, and also agree to reduce the US contribution to fund the alliance itself.
The allies will approve a new strategy to monitor China’s growing military activity, and name space as a domain of warfare, alongside air, land, sea and computer networks.
Leaders will issue a statement condemning Moscow’s Crimea annexation and its military build-up, recommitting to the alliance’s collective defense pledge.
While giving few specifics, Trump said he believed Russia wanted deals on arms control and nuclear issues, and that he would be willing to bring China into such accords. 


New Zealand volcano still too dangerous to remove bodies

Updated 55 min 35 sec ago

New Zealand volcano still too dangerous to remove bodies

  • The official death toll after Monday’s explosion on White Island climbed to six late Tuesday
  • Police hope to use drones to measure toxic gas levels around the island and determine whether it is safe to return

WHAKATANE, New Zealand: The smoldering New Zealand volcano that killed at least six people is still too dangerous for emergency teams to recover bodies from, police said Wednesday, warning that many tourists who escaped the island were so badly burned they were not yet out of danger.
The official death toll after Monday’s explosion on White Island climbed to six late Tuesday when another victim died in hospital.
The bodies of eight more people are believed to be on the island, but it is still too dangerous for the teams of rescuers to travel there and for forensic pathologists, odontologists and other victim identification experts to begin their work.
The Ministry of Health said 22 survivors still being treated in hospital burns units around the country remained in a critical condition.
When the volcano exploded it is believed to have sent superheated steam, ash and cannonball-like rocks hurtling from the caldera at supersonic speed.
Police Minister Stuart Nash said injuries to tourists and guides exploring at the time were so severe that some victims could not identify themselves.
“There are a number of people in hospital who cannot communicate, they have significant burns not only to skin but internal organs,” he told Radio New Zealand.
“We’re working very closely with a number of agencies to ensure we get this identification right.”
A total of 47 day-trippers and guides were on the island when the blast occurred, hailing from Australia, the United States, Britain, China, Germany, Malaysia and New Zealand.
Nash said the survivors were receiving world-class treatment but warned “there are still some very, very seriously injured people in hospital.”
“We wish them the best but we’re not out of the woods yet, of that there’s no doubt,” he said.
Australia says 13 of its citizens were being treated and 11 were unaccounted for, while two Britons have also been confirmed as injured and a local tour company says two of its guides are missing.
Malaysia’s High Commission on Wednesday confirmed one of its nationals was critically injured, in addition to one previously announced death.
A coronial process has begun to identify the six confirmed dead but New Zealand police assistant commissioner Bruce Bird said their names and nationalities would not be released until the end of a formal process, which “can take some time.”
Police have said they understand the frustration of family members who want clarity over the fate of their missing loved ones but recovery teams had no choice but to wait before accessing the island.
Seismologists have predicted there is a 50 percent chance of another eruption on the island, which sits semi-submerged 50 kilometers (30 miles) out to sea.
Poisonous gases are still pouring from the volcanic vent and the island is blanketed in a thick layer of acidic ash.
“It would be madness for us to send men and women across to White Island in a situation that was not safe for them,” Nash said.
New Zealand authorities said reconnaissance flights had determined that after survivors fled the initial blast no one was left alive on the island.
Police hope to use drones to measure toxic gas levels around the island and determine whether it is safe to return, but windy conditions have so far prevented them from doing so.
With weather expected to deteriorate on Thursday, pressure is building to begin the recovery operation.
“We’re assessing all factors every two or three hours to see if we can go,” superintendent Bird told reporters.
The eruption at White Island — also known as Whakaari — occurred on Monday afternoon, spewing a thick plume of white ash 3.6 kilometers (12,000 feet) into the sky.
Visitors at the time included a group of more than 30 from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, the Ovation of the Seas, which left Sydney on a 12-day voyage last week with up to 4,000 passengers onboard.
The ship had delayed its departure from nearby Tauranga in the wake of the disaster but set off for Wellington early Wednesday morning.
“A team will remain onsite in Tauranga and all hospital locations to ensure those affected by Monday’s incident are taken care of in terms of medical help, counselling, accommodations, and transport,” the company said in a statement.
“Our priority continues to be to ensure that all guests and crew impacted are well taken care.”
The island in the picturesque Bay of Plenty attracts more than 17,000 visitors every year and is marketed as an experience for the adventurous traveler.
But the volcano’s threat level had been raised in recent days, leading to questions about whether tour groups should have been allowed to visit.