BRUSSELS (AP) — A senior European Union official lashed out Tuesday at President Donald Trump, lambasting the U.S. leader's constant criticism of European allies and urging him to remember who his friends are when he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin next week.
On the eve of a NATO summit meant to showcase the West's unity and resolve to counter Russia, European Council President Donald Tusk directed a remark at Trump, saying "it is always worth knowing who is your strategic friend and who is your strategic problem."
NATO is keen to damp down trans-Atlantic differences during the two-day summit at its Brussels headquarters, despite divisions among the alliance's 29 members over Trump's policies on trade and his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and an international climate agreement.
Tusk's pointed observation, offered as he signed a joint declaration with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, is unlikely to be the only rhetorical salvo fired this week.
"America does not have and will not have a better ally than Europe today," Tusk said. "Europeans spend on defense many times more than Russia and as much as China, and I think you can have no doubt, Mr. President, that this is an investment in common American and European defense and security, which cannot be said with confidence about Russian or Chinese spending."
Trump regularly has criticized his NATO allies for failing to spend the target of 2 percent of gross domestic product on national defense budgets. He tweeted Tuesday morning: "Getting ready to leave for Europe. First meeting — NATO. The U.S. is spending many times more than any other country in order to protect them."
On Monday the U.S. president tweeted that "NATO countries must pay MORE, the United States must pay LESS. Very Unfair!"
He is expected to repeat his demands for more military spending on Wednesday.
Tusk, too, urged NATO members in Europe to increase defense spending as they promised, but he rejected Trump's claim that Washington is doing all the work.
"Dear America, appreciate your allies, after all you don't have all that many," he said.
The former Polish prime minister, who these days chairs summits of EU leaders and will take part in the NATO meeting, recalled that Europe stood at Washington's side after the Sept. 11 attacks, and that 870 European troops have fought and died in Afghanistan, including 40 from Poland.
"Mr. President, please remember about this tomorrow when we meet at the NATO summit. But above all, when you meet President Putin in Helsinki" on July 16, Tusk said.
Stoltenberg has the challenging task of chairing the first major gathering of western leaders since a Group of Seven meeting last month ended with Trump insulting the host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Stoltenberg praised Trump for spurring the allies into action. The NATO chief said that the Europeans and Canada are projected to spend around $266 billion more on defense by 2024.
"I would like to thank President Trump for his leadership on defense spending. It is clearly having an impact," Stoltenberg said.
Of the divisions and tensions likely to be in attendance at the Brussels meeting, he conceded that "there are disagreements and different views, and I expect actually also honest and frank discussions during the summit. But I strongly believe that NATO can continue to be the cornerstone of trans-Atlantic security despite those disagreements."
Meanwhile, Canada's Trudeau announced in Latvia that his country was extending its leadership of a multinational NATO battle group in the small Baltic nation for another four years.
Trudeau, who was called "weak" by Trump after the G7 meeting, pledged to boost the number of Canadian troops in Latvia to 540, from around 450 currently.
"I want to be clear: we're absolutely committed to the protection of our allies and to global peace and security," Trudeau said in Riga, adding that Canadian fighter jets would continue to take part in NATO air policing mission in the Baltic countries.
Canada is spending just over 1.2 percent of GDP on defense, significantly below the target.
"Since Canada is nowhere near to fulfilling NATO's 2 percent norm of GDP on defense spending and won't do so in the foreseeable future, it is politically wise to emphasize Canada's role in leading the NATO deployment in the Baltics," Professor Andres Kasekamp, chair of Estonian Studies at the University of Toronto and a security policy expert on the Baltic countries, told The Associated Press.
Raf Casert in Brussels and Jari Tanner in Helsinki contributed.