WEST PALM BEACH (Florida) • US President Donald Trump has agreed to meet the leaders of Nato at a summit in late May, the alliance has said - an apparent first step in his efforts to push it to focus more on counterterrorism and for members to spend more on their militaries.
Mr Trump was elected on a pledge to push Nato members to increase their funding to the Western alliance, to ease the financial burden on the United States. This proposal has drawn opposition from both Republicans and Democrats, and the idea has worried European allies who fear Russian President Vladimir Putin might take advantage.
A White House statement said Mr Trump and Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg spoke by phone on Sunday and "discussed how to encourage all Nato allies to meet their defence spending commitments".
"President Trump agreed to join in a meeting of Nato leaders in Europe in May," the statement said. A Nato official said it will most likely take place either immediately before or after a summit of leaders of the Group of Seven world powers on May 26 and 27 in Italy.
Mr Trump and Mr Stoltenberg also "discussed the potential for a peaceful resolution of the conflict along the Ukrainian border".
Over the past week, a flare-up in hostilities has erupted between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatists, with each accusing the other of a new wave of shelling.
Mr Trump has drawn fire at home for wanting to have warmer ties with Mr Putin.
In an interview broadcast by the Fox network on Sunday, Mr Trump waved off concern from interviewer Bill O'Reilly that "Putin's a killer".
"We've got a lot of killers... You think our country's so innocent? You think our country's so innocent?" Mr Trump said, citing the 2003 war in Iraq.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who lost to Mr Trump in the Republican presidential primary battle last year, tweeted that it would be a mistake to lift US sanctions on Russia, a step Mr Trump has been considering. "Only reason we should ever lift sanctions on #Putin is if he meets conditions of sanctions & ends violations of #ukraine sovereignty," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, told CNN's State Of The Union he was not going to critique everything Mr Trump says - but on Russia, he said: "I obviously don't see this issue the same way he does."
REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, WASHINGTON POST