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Trump cancels news conference, leaves NATO summit early

Updated December 4, 2019 - 7:06 pm

WATFORD — President Donald Trump abruptly canceled a scheduled press conference at the close of a two-day NATO summit that marked the organization’s 70th anniversary, after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was caught on camera joking about Trump talking to the press too much the day before.

“When today’s meetings are over, I will be heading back to Washington. We won’t be doing a press conference at the close of NATO because we did so many over the past two days. Safe travels to all!” The president tweeted — thus informing a press corps waiting for him to arrive at the podium.

It was a day after Trump’s full-throated endorsement of NATO as a strategic alliance, his put down of French President Emmanuel Macron for calling NATO “brain dead” and his attendance at the sort of ceremonies Trump loves, receptions at Buckingham Palace and No. 10 Downing Street.

The decision to shutter a scheduled press conference at The Grove luxury hotel and golf resort located outside London followed the airing of a video that showed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apparently gossiping about Trump’s behavior during the summit with other NATO leaders.

The footage recorded at a Buckingham Palace reception showed an animated Trudeau telling British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Britain’s Princess Anne.

“He was late ‘cause he takes a 44-minute press conference off the top every time,” Macron said, to the apparent amusement of those listening.

In that Trump is the only NATO leader to give a 40-plus minute talk with reporters Tuesday – in fact, Trump’s three chats with reporters consumed close to two hours – Trudeau clearly was referring to Trump.

Wednesday afternoon, a reporter asked Trump, as he sat for a bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, if he had seen the Trudeau video, which went viral on the internet. Trump responded, “Well, he’s two-faced. And with Trudeau, he’s a nice guy.”

“But you know,” Trump added, “The truth is I called him out on the fact that he’s not paying (the NATO defense spending guideline of 2 percent of GDP) and he’s not very happy about it.”

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Trudeau told reporters he had had “a number of good conversations” with Trump over the day, as he described Trump’s “unscheduled press conference” that preceded their session yesterday as “notable.”

Trudeau also offered that Trump and he have a “good and constructive relationship.”

Trump also held a working lunch with representatives of Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Bulgaria and the U.K. to thank them for meeting their NATO burden-sharing guideline of spending two percent of their GDP on defense – a signature Trump crusade.

Trump also held bilateral talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

In August, Trump canceled a scheduled September visit to Denmark after Frederiksen said she had no interest in discussing selling Greenland to the United States as she found the idea “absurd.”

The Erdogan meeting did not appear on the public schedule. It coincided with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s announcement that Turkey had agreed not to block a defense plan for the Balkans and Poland. Turkey had threatened to block the plan unless NATO labeled certain Kurdish groups as terrorists.

“We stand together, all for one and one for all,” Stoltenberg told reporters. “Our commitment to Article 5, the collective defense clause of our alliance, is ironclad.”

It was a positive resolution given the dustup that preceded the two-day summit when Macron called the alliance brain dead in part because Turkey invaded Syria after informing Trump, but not other NATO nations.

When Trump met with Stoltenberg for breakfast Tuesday, he excoriated Macron for make a “very, very nasty” comment about NATO. It was an odd turnabout with Trump, who was once an ardent NATO critic, chastising a European leader for not being sufficiently pro-NATO.

Trump was more conciliatory when he met with Macron later.

While a YouGov poll estimated that 43 percent of British voters support conservatives – versus 32 percent for Labor – YouGov found only 18 percent have a positive view of Trump.

Trump’s departure no doubt was met with relief at Downing Street, as Johnson had asked Trump not to insert himself in the U.K.’s Dec. 12 elections and downplayed the chummy relationship between the two brash heads of state.

While Trump and Johnson met privately at No. 10 Downing Street Tuesday night, there were no photos and no press allowed to observe what would be an expected meeting between an American president and NATO summit host. Instead, it was as an off-the-books talk.

Throughout the summit, Trump roundly criticized the House impeachment effort – “a disgrace,” he said – which Democrats scheduled to concur with his NATO visit.

Medea Benjamin of the anti-war group Code Pink, tweeted, “Trump, ever the big baby, canceled his press conference a NATO summit after European leaders mocked him, and heads home. Europeans say good riddance. Americans say ‘impeach!’”

Still, Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies observed, “The overall lack of importance that this administration gives to NATO remains troubling. The alliance, however flawed, is still a crucial piece of our defense architecture.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or at 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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