Donald Trump now says NATO "is no longer obsolete" — perhaps thanks to his complaints

Donald Trump now says NATO "is no longer obsolete" — perhaps thanks to his complaints
Source: AP
Source: AP

What an about-face.

President Donald Trump reversed himself Wednesday on the relevance of NATO, telling reporters the organization is once again relevant — maybe even thanks to him.

At a joint news conference in Washington, Trump said he and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had shared "a productive discussion about what more NATO can do in the fight against terrorism." 

Trump continued, "I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism. I said it was obsolete. It's no longer obsolete."

Trump, a sharp critic of NATO during his presidential run, also said the "alliance has been the bulwark of international peace and security."

While campaigning on a promise to be an "America First" leader, Trump said NATO's relevance to the United States might have dwindled since its creation in 1949 as a defense against Soviet encroachment on Europe.

Although Trump has since vowed to increase U.S. defense spending to restore what he says is a depleted military, NATO's price tag has been his sticking point. In March, the White House denied a report that during a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump went so far as to hand her a "bill" for American services to the alliance.

The tenor of Wednesday's news conference was far more cordial, with Stoltenberg saying "defense spending and burden sharing" among NATO allies has been a top priority for him and that things were "starting to move in the right direction."

Trump, in turn, said he looked forward to traveling to Brussels in May for the NATO heads of state meeting and to continued support from the alliance in the fight against terror.

The meeting took place against the backdrop of grave diplomatic tensions between the United States and Russia over Syria. Those tensions heightened recently when the United States fired missiles at a Syrian airbase in response to alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians by Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Stoltenberg said a strong NATO alliance doesn't mean there cannot be peace with Russia: "We don't want a new Cold War. We don't want a new arms race," he said.

Trump said relations with Russia may be at a low — as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow — but didn't say restoring relations would be hopeless.

In another headline-making reversal Wednesday, Trump told the Wall Street Journal he no longer labeled China a currency manipulator. Trump hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida the weekend of April 8.

Per the Journal, Trump — who took a hard line on China throughout the campaign, even to the point of mockery — shifted on one of his "signature campaign promises" because "China hasn't been manipulating its currency for months and because taking the step now could jeopardize his talks with Beijing on confronting the threat of North Korea."

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Celeste Katz

Celeste Katz is senior political correspondent at Mic, covering national politics. She is based in New York and can be reached at celeste@mic.com.

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