BRUSSELS • United States President Donald Trump said he had a "great meeting" with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the sidelines of a Nato summit yesterday, hours after he fiercely criticised German policy on defence spending and gas imports from Russia.
The tone of the remark was in sharp contrast to the mood at an earlier breakfast meeting between Mr Trump and Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg, when the Republican President said Germany's reliance on Russian energy left it "in the control" of Moscow.
Dr Merkel later referred to her youth in Soviet-run East Germany to insist Berlin was now fully sovereign.
"We're having a great meeting. We're discussing military expenditure... talking about trade," Mr Trump told reporters.
"We have a very, very good relationship with the chancellor. We have a tremendous relationship with Germany," he added, saying he had raised his concerns about a new gas pipeline planned from Russia to Germany.
Mr Trump played up the success of the bilateral meeting and the potential to resolve issues. "I believe that our trade will increase and lots of other things will increase, but we'll see what happens."
We're having a great meeting. We're discussing military expenditure... talking about trade.
US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, on his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
UNDER RUSSIAN CONTROL
Germany is a captive of Russia... I think it's something that Nato has to look at.
MR TRUMP, at an earlier breakfast with the Nato chief.
Germany does a lot for Nato.
GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL, on Germany being the second-largest provider of Nato troops. She added that Germans defend the interests of the US.
Dr Merkel, speaking through an interpreter, said the meeting was an "opportunity to have an exchange about economic developments... and also the future of our trade relations".
She said it was very important to have such exchanges like the meeting she and Mr Trump had because "after all, we are partners. We are good partners, and we wish to continue to cooperate in the future".
Mr Trump was in Brussels at the start of a seven-day, three-nation European trip that highlights the ways he has utterly transformed US foreign policy.
He kicked off his Nato summit meetings on a contentious note, calling allies "delinquent" for failing to spend enough on their own defence and attacking Germany as a "captive" of Russia because of its energy dealings.
"Many countries are not paying what they should, and, frankly, many countries owe us a tremendous amount of money from many years back," Mr Trump said at the breakfast meeting with Mr Stoltenberg at the residence of the US ambassador to Belgium.
"They're delinquent, as far as I'm concerned, because the US has had to pay for them."
Bulgaria's President Rumen Radev said Mr Trump told Nato allies to raise defence spending to 4 per cent of gross domestic product.
"President Trump, who spoke first, raised the issue not only to achieve 2 per cent today, but (set) a new barrier - 4 per cent," Mr Radev told reporters.
Mr Trump singled out Germany for particularly sharp criticism, saying the country was "totally controlled by Russia" because of its dependence on Russian natural gas.
The US spends heavily to defend Germany from Russia, he said, and "Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia".
In March, Germany gave approval for Gazprom, the Russian energy titan, to construct the Nord Stream 2 pipeline through its waters, a US$10 billion (S$13.6 billion) project.
Mr Stoltenberg countered that "despite differences", Nato was about uniting "to protect and defend each other". But Mr Trump shrugged off the collective defence principle, saying: "How can you be together when a country is getting its energy from the country you want protection against?"
In her typical polite-but-firm fashion, Dr Merkel showed no sign of irritation at Mr Trump's remarks and did not say directly that he was wrong, but she made her position clear.
She noted that Germany was the second-largest provider of Nato troops after the US, and had thousands of troops supporting the US-led effort in Afghanistan.
"Germany does a lot for Nato," she said, adding that, in the process, Germans "defend the interests of the United States".
After the Nato summit, Mr Trump is due to travel to Britain and then to Finland to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Nato yesterday invited Macedonia to start talks to join the alliance after Skopje reached a deal with Greece in a long-running row over the country's name.
REUTERS, NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE