Ties between Trudeau, Trump tested at close of NATO summit
Justin's candid comments about the mercurial president are captured on video and broadcast around the world.
WATFORD, United Kingdom — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau escaped an international summit with his relationship with US President Donald Trump apparently intact in the wake of ill-timed comments that threatened to ignite tensions between the two leaders.
The damage came in the form of candid comments Trudeau made about the mercurial president that were captured on video and quickly broadcast around the world.
Trump subsequently called Trudeau “two-faced,” but otherwise appeared to take the comments in stride, no doubt leaving Trudeau – and the rest of Canada – to breathe a sigh of relief the damage was not worse.
“We have a very good and constructive relationship between me and the president that has allowed us to move forward on protecting our workers through the renewed NAFTA deal, through the steel tariffs, which we got lifted, through many initiatives,” Trudeau said.
“We will continue to have an excellent relationship.”
Trudeau arrived in the United Kingdom on Monday hoping to bridge a growing gap between some members of the NATO military alliance – particularly the US, France and Turkey – as the organization celebrated its 70th anniversary.
Those three countries have been at odds on a number of fronts, with French President Emmanuel Macron voicing frustration over a lack of co-ordination and communication within the alliance, as exemplified by American and Turkish actions in Syria.
Instead, Trudeau faced repeated questions about Canada’s failure to spend two per cent of its gross domestic product – a common measurement of a nation’s economic wealth – on its military.
That included an exchange with Trump during an impromptu 40-minute news conference in which the Canadian prime minister tried to deflect the US president’s attention away from the fact Canada has no plan to reach the 2% target.
NATO members agreed in 2014 to work toward the 2% target within a decade. Canada spends 1.31% of its GDP on defence and is slated to reach 1.4% by 2024-25.
Hours later at a reception at Buckingham Palace, Trudeau was recorded with Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Dutch President Mark Rutte and Princess Anne talking candidly about Trump’s lengthy news conferences during bilateral meetings.
“He was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top,” Trudeau said at one point. Trudeau was also heard saying Trump’s “team’s jaws drop to the floor” when the latter announced the next G7 summit would be held at Camp David.
Trump cancelled his original plan to hold the summit at one of his resorts following a bipartisan political backlash in October and floated Camp David as a replacement venue.
The footage, shot by the British host’s pool camera, quickly spread across the internet and broadcast by international media such as Fox News and the New York Times, with observers suggesting Trudeau and the other leaders were mocking Trump, who has previously lashed out at perceived slights.
Trump broke his silence during a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday afternoon, calling Trudeau “two-faced,” before adding: “But honestly, with Trudeau, he’s a nice guy. I’ve found him to be a very nice guy.”
The US president went on to suggest Trudeau was simply upset Canada had been called out for not spending enough on its military.
“He’s not paying two per cent and he should be paying 2%,” Trump said. “It’s Canada. They have money and they should be paying 2%. So I called him out on that and I’m sure he’s wasn’t happy about that, but that’s the way it is.”
Later, during a working lunch with leaders of countries meeting the two-per-cent spending target, a White House pool reporter noted Trump told one attendee it “was funny when I said that guy was two-faced,” referring to Trudeau.
Trudeau played down the incident.
“Last night, I made a reference to the fact that there was an unscheduled press conference before my meeting with president Trump and I was happy to take part in it, but it was certainly notable,” the prime minister said during a news conference at the end of the summit.
“And I’ve had a number of good conversations with the president over the course of this day and yesterday.”
Trudeau also announced Canada would make a full fighter-jet squadron and several naval warships available for a NATO deployment on 30 days notice as the alliance seeks to boost its ability to respond rapidly to emergencies.
Trump cancelled his own scheduled news conference following the Dec. 4 NATO meeting, which was held at an exclusive golf club northwest of London.
Trudeau was scheduled to return to Canada on Dec. 4 in time for the opening of the new Parliament on Thursday.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg made no reference to Trudeau’s exchange as he formally ended the summit, in which members reiterated the alliance’s founding principle that an attack on one represents an attack on all and recommitted to spending more on defence.
Leaders also agreed to a renewed plan for defending Poland and the Baltics, where Canada has deployed 600 troops to Latvia as a check against Russian aggression. There had been fears Turkey would hold up the plan unless members agreed to label a Kurdish group as terrorists.
There was also a commitment to ensuring the security of members’ telecommunications infrastructure, including 5G networks. It was unclear, however, whether that would involve countries like Canada banning Chinese firm Huawei from such work, as the U.S. has demanded.
“The decisions that we will be making around 5G and telecommunications in Canada will be based on the advice of our experts and working in collaboration with our allies,” Trudeau said.
“This is an issue that countries around the world are struggling with and we are going to continue to work in a responsible way to ensure the security of Canadians and our telecommunications systems.”