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World

President Trump Meets NATO Leaders In Belgium

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump went to a gathering of America's closest allies today in Brussels, and he lectured them about doing their fair share. Trump has at times shown ambivalence about the NATO alliance. What he said at the gathering today is unlikely to provide those allies much reassurance. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is on the trip and filed this story from a plane on the way to the next stop.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It was a day choreographed to show the strength of the NATO alliance and reaffirm its value. There was the inauguration ceremony for the massive new NATO headquarters building.

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UNIDENTIFIED BAND: (Playing "The Star-Spangled Banner").

KEITH: Complete with a flyover from aircraft used on NATO missions.

(SOUNDBITE OF AIRCRAFT FLYING)

KEITH: And there was a special dedication of a memorial to Article 5. That's the part of the NATO charter that says an attack on one alliance member is an attack on them all.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This ceremony is a day for both remembrance and resolve.

KEITH: President Trump spoke at the dedication. The memorial to Article 5 is made of a twisted piece of steel from the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

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TRUMP: We remember and mourn those nearly 3,000 innocent people who were brutally murdered by terrorists on September 11, 2001. Our NATO allies responded swiftly and decisively, invoking for the first time in its history the Article 5 collective defense commitments.

KEITH: That's where the sentence ended and is all Trump said in his speech about Article 5. As a candidate, he had expressed skepticism about it. Now, as president, his remarks didn't explicitly reaffirm America's commitment to it. This came in contrast to other speakers throughout the day.

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JENS STOLTENBERG: It is our solidarity that keeps our nations safe.

KEITH: Jens Stoltenberg is NATO's secretary general.

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STOLTENBERG: That is why a strong NATO is good for Europe and good for North America.

KEITH: Later, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer spoke to reporters and insisted the president's presence at the memorial was affirmation enough.

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SEAN SPICER: If you are standing at a ceremony, talking about the invocation of Article 5 after 9/11, that is a pretty clear indication of the support that exists for it.

KEITH: The bulk of Trump's speech was about terrorism and about other countries doing their fair share, things he talked about often as a candidate pledging to put America first.

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TRUMP: Twenty-three of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they're supposed to be paying for their defense.

KEITH: NATO countries have agreed to spend 2 percent of GDP on their own national defense, although they aren't all doing it. But sometimes when Trump talks about this commitment it's as if he's referring to dues payments, which it isn't.

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TRUMP: And many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years and not paying in those past years.

KEITH: It's not clear how this message was received by the other leaders, but when all the NATO leaders met later they unanimously supported a resolution to commit to burden sharing and combating terrorism. The White House saw this as a victory. Tamara Keith, NPR News, traveling with the president. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.