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Huge row breaks out between Trump and Merkel

Luke James
Brussels correspondent

Angela Merkel has hit back at the explosive attack launched on her government by Donald Trump over a gas pipeline being constructed between Germany and Russia.

Speaking at the start of the Nato summit in Brussels, the US president said that Berlin is “captive to Russia” as a result of the Nord Stream II project.

His claim sparked a deeply personal retort from the German chancellor, who grew in communist east Germany.

“I have experienced myself how a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union,” she told reporters as she arrived at Nato headquarters.

“I am very happy that today we are united in freedom, the Federal Republic of Germany.

Angela Merkel and Donald Trump at the Nato summit in Brussels (Reuters)

“Because of that we can say that we can make our independent policies and make independent decisions.”

She also refuted Trump’s claims that Germany isn’t doing enough to support Nato, leaving it reliant on the US.

The row between the leaders of the two most powerful nations in the defence alliance blew up during an exchange between Trump and Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg in front of TV cameras.

The pair met for pre-summit breakfast in what was supposed to be a show of unity following Trump’s eve-of-summit twitter protest over US spending on the alliance.

But Trump used the opportunity to make clear his objection to the gas pipeline and protest over US spending on Nato in his characteristically undiplomatic style.

“Germany is totally controlled by Russia because they’ll be getting 60 to 70% of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline,” Trump told Stoltenberg. “You tell me if that’s appropriate. I think it’s not.”

Stoltenberg tried to avoid an embarrassing on-camera row, replying: “Nato is an alliance of 29 nations and there are sometimes differences.

“…But the strength of Nato is that despite these differences we’ve always been able to unite around our core task: to protect and defend each other because we understand we are stronger together than apart.”

Donald Trump speaks to Jens Stoltenberg during a tense breakfast meeting in Brussels (Reuters)

But Trump hit back: “But Germany, as far as I’m concerned, is captive to Russia because it’s getting so much of its energy from Russia.”

Trump is reportedly considering imposing sanctions on the five European countries involved in the pipeline project.

He also singled out Germany as he railed about a perceived inequality when it comes to funding the defence alliance.

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“Germany is paying just over 1% [of its GDP], whereas the United States, in actual numbers is paying 4.2% of a much larger GDP,” he said. “So, I think that’s inappropriate also.”

He made the comments just hours before a one-to-one meeting with Merkel on the side lines of the summit, during which they discussed the pipeline as well as trade.

Trump sounded less combative afterwards, saying he had a “very good relationship” with Merkel and praising Germany’s “tremendous success.”

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg speaking to journalists after his meeting with president Trump (Reuters)

Stoltenberg later put the row down to differences over style rather than substance.

“President Trump has a very direct language and message on defence spending, but fundamentally we all agree that we need fair burden sharing,” he said.

“That’s exactly why all allies agree that those who are spending less than 2% have to spend more and that’s exactly what we have started to do.”

As she arrived at the summit, Theresa May told reporters the UK has “lead by example” by meeting the 2% target.

And she said: “Nato is as vital to us today as it ever has been and the UK’s commitment to it remains as steadfast as ever.”

EU Council president Donald Tusk argued yesterday that US spending in Nato was an investment in their own defence.

And he said: “Dear America, appreciate your allies – after all you don’t have that many.”

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