President Donald Trump

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Trump Heads To Brussels For NATO Summit As Part Of 4-Nation European Visit

July 10, 2018 - 11:48 am

WASHINGTON (WCBS 880/CBS News/AP) -- President Donald Trump headed to Brussels Tuesday to attend the NATO summit.

As Trump left, there were questions as to whether this might be the end of NATO, or at least American involvement in it.

Trump has been pressing NATO countries to fulfill their goal of spending 2 percent of their gross domestic products on defense by 2024. During his presidential campaign, he suggested he might only come to the defense of NATO nations that fulfilled their obligation. He continues to criticize NATO countries for not paying their fair share.

NATO estimates that 15 members, or just over half, will meet the benchmark by 2024 based on current trends.

"The U.S. is spending many times more than any other country in order to protect them. Not fair to the U.S. taxpayer. On top of that we lose $151 Billion on Trade with the European Union. Charge us big Tariffs (& Barriers)!" Trump tweeted early Monday. 

He added, "NATO countries must pay MORE, the United States must pay LESS. Very unfair!" While departing from the White House on Monday, Trump, however appeared optimistic that a deal would be worked out between the allied nations. 

"We will work it out and all countries will be happy," he said before boarding Marine One. 

But European Council President Donald Tusk issued a stern warning to Trump in response: "The U.S. doesn't have and won't have a better ally than EU."

"We spend on defense much more than Russia and as much as China. I hope you have no doubt this is an investment in our security, which cannot be said with confidence about Russian & Chinese spending," Tusk pressed, punctuated with a smiley-face emoticon. 

Tusk made similar remarks after signing a joint EU-NATO declaration in Brussels ahead of the summit, once again warning the U.S. president to "appreciate your allies."

"Money is important, but genuine solidarity is even more important," Tusk added. 

Trump's four-nation European tour has had allies fretting over the risk of damage he could do to the decades-old NATO alliance – though the NATO secretary general has maintained a positive outlook.

“We heard this morning from the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who says all of the countries in the transatlantic alliance are spending more of their respective economies on defense than he did last year, and he says despite the disagreements, that will surely be on display here over the next three days. He says, quote, ‘I’m confident that we will agree on the fundamentals,’” said CBS News White House Correspondent Steven Portnoy. “Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, putting the best possible spin on what will surely be these tense meetings here.”

Trump himself has also said, “I’m sure we’ll work something out,” Portnoy noted.

Meanwhile, allies are also worried about his potential embrace of Russia's Vladimir Putin during a summit in Helsinki.

After Brussels, Trump will go on to London, where Prime Minister Theresa May's government is in turmoil over her plans for exiting the European Union.

Trump, who has compared the Brexit vote to leave the EU to his own election, will be making his maiden presidential trip to Britain at a fraught time for May. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary David Davis resigned within hours of each other in protest of her plan.

Trump's visit is expected to attract large protests in London and elsewhere in Britain.

Trump's weeklong trip to Europe will continue with a stop in Scotland before ending with a sit-down in Helsinki with Putin, whose country the U.S. intelligence community has concluded interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump win.

While departing on Monday, Trump said his meeting with the Russian leader "may be the easiest" of all his meetings this week in Europe. "Who would think?," he remarked. 

The meeting will be closely watched to see whether Trump will rebuke or embrace Putin, who has repeatedly denied the allegations of election meddling, in spite of evidence to the contrary.

Asked if Putin should be seen as a friend or a foe to the United States ahead of their summit, Trump told reporters "I really can't say right now; as far as I can say, a competitor. "

He added, "Getting along with Russia, getting along with China, getting along with others is a good thing not a bad thing, so we'll see, we're meeting with Putin on Monday well see how that goes."

(© 2018 WCBS 880. CBS News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)