Trump's remarks came at a Cabinet meeting attended by the NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg.
“We had countries that were not paying what they were supposed to be paying. Now most countries are. And I think you'll be able to handle the ones that aren't. Right? I have confidence,” Trump told Stoltenberg.
Stoltenberg highlighted Trump’s work on shoring up NATO, whose continued purpose Trump questioned while campaigning in the 2016 election.
Sitting beside Trump at a brief press availability, Stoltenberg praised Trump: “Thank you for the leadership you show on defense spending because it is very important. We all contribute more to our shared security. It is really having an impact.
Trump interrupted Stoltenberg to urge the NATO chief to explicitly credit him: “Do you give me credit for that?”
“You have helped to do that because your leadership has been important and it has had a real impact,” Stoltenberg replied.
The meeting comes amid frayed ties between between the U.S. and European allies over the Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal and Trump’s decision to levy steel and aluminum import tariffs—before deciding to exempt the European Union and six other countries.
Trump, in response to a question on U.S. trade with the European Union, said the union “outside of China and a couple of others, treats us, on trade, as badly as you can be treated.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier this week suggested that Germany would not hit the NATO spending target, calling the prospect, “not completely beyond the imagination.” A German revenue boom has raised the likelihood of a defense budget hike, however.
Trump called out by name the countries whose military budgets meet a target of 2 percent of economic output: Poland, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Greece, and the United Kingdom.
“They paid. They were on time. They paid the number that they’re supposed to be paying. We have some that don’t, and, well, they’ll be dealt with,” Trump said.
“We’re still waiting on 20 member states to meet their NATO commitments and spend at least 2 percent on defense. And 2 percent is a very low number. The number really should be 4 percent,” Trump said.
Trump reaffirmed America’s commitment to NATO’s mutual-defense clause and praised Stoltenberg and NATO overall, saying, “NATO has been working very closely with the United States. Our relationship is really good.
“Together we’ve increased and really raised money from countries that weren’t paying or weren’t paying a fair share. We have a little ways to go, but many billions of dollars of additional money has been raised,” Trump said.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spent his first full day in office last month stressing that NATO allies should pay their way.
In closed-door meetings, Pompeo in particular pressed allies to increase their military budgets to meet a target of 2 percent of economic output spent on defense every year by 2024, as well as ensuring 20 percent of the outlay is on equipment.