By Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday reaffirmed support for the United States’ longstanding security alliances around the world but insisted that friends and partners from Europe to the Middle East to the Pacific must “pay their fair share of the cost.”
In his first nationally televised speech to Congress since taking office on Jan. 20, Trump sought to reassure allies still uneasy over doubts he raised during the 2016 presidential campaign about his commitment to their defense and to maintaining a U.S. global leadership role.
But he also made clear that he expects those countries to shoulder more of the burden of their own security needs, echoing a campaign message that some allies had taken advantage of Washington’s generosity in providing them a security umbrella.
“Our foreign policy calls for a direct, robust and meaningful engagement with the world,” Trump told a joint session of Congress. “It is American leadership based on vital security interests that we share with our allies across the globe.”
He specifically assured NATO allies of his new administration’s continued commitment to the decades-old alliance. However, he made no mention of one of the main sources of European concern: his friendly overtures during the campaign toward Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We strongly support NATO, an alliance forged through the bonds of two World Wars that dethroned fascism and a Cold War that defeated communism,” Trump said.
“But our partners must meet their financial obligations,” he said. “And now, based on our very strong and frank discussions, they are beginning to do just that.”
Then, deviating from his prepared remarks, Trump added: “In fact, I can tell you the money is pouring in. Very nice.” But he offered no specifics.
Some critics had accused Trump of failing to recognize the benefit that accrued to the United States of having strong democratic allies helping to stabilize volatile areas like the Middle East, Ukraine and South Asia.
Trump’s remarks followed the deployment earlier this month of senior Cabinet members to Brussels, Bonn and Munich, Germany, aimed at calming European worries.
The Europeans heard from Defense Secretary James Mattis that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization military alliance was not “obsolete” after all, despite Trump’s suggestions to the contrary.
Vice President Mike Pence told them that Russia would be “held accountable” for its actions in Ukraine.
Mattis made his first foreign trip to South Korea and Japan, where he sought to ease concerns about what Trump’s self-styled “America First” strategy means for U.S. foreign policy in Asia.
While seeming to tackle some of the doubts of U.S. allies, Trump still made clear that he wanted them to do more.
“We expect our partners, whether in NATO, in the Middle East, or the Pacific, to take a direct and meaningful role in both strategic and military operations, and pay their fair share of the cost,” he said.
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)