NATO Summit Preview NPR's Michel Martin speaks to Alexander Vershbow, a former deputy secretary general of NATO, about the upcoming NATO Summit.
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NATO Summit Preview

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NATO Summit Preview

NATO Summit Preview

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Let's turn now to another event happening this week - the NATO summit in Brussels. This comes as President Trump's relations with longtime allies like Canada, Germany and France are particularly strained following the G-7 meeting last month. And then there's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's most recent visit to Pyongyang, which he called productive but which the North Koreans labeled, quote, "deeply regrettable." It's against this backdrop that President Trump will meet with his foreign allies.

To understand how this meeting could play out, we've called upon Ambassador Alexander Vershbow once again. He's a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council and a former NATO deputy secretary general as well as a former ambassador to Russia and South Korea.

Ambassador, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us once again.

ALEXANDER VERSHBOW: It's my pleasure.

MARTIN: So let's start with North Korea because, as we mentioned, there are some mixed signals over Secretary Pompeo's most recent talks with North Korea. How does this affect the president's posture going into the NATO summit?

VERSHBOW: Well, I think this has confirmed the limited results, shall we say, of the meeting in Singapore. To put it undiplomatically, it looks like Kim Jong Un snookered President Trump, and the North Koreans are definitely not committed to the kind of denuclearization that we thought they were. And I think that President Trump needs to think again about disparaging allies. We need to present a united front if we're going to deal with tough customers like Kim Jong Un or Vladimir Putin, whom the president, of course, is going to be seeing on the 16 - the 17.

MARTIN: What does the president need to accomplish with this summit in your view?

VERSHBOW: Well, what I hope he would see as his goal is to unify NATO. Doesn't mean pulling your punches on some of our grievances with the allies when it comes to defense spending, but also looking at the positive things that NATO has been doing to deter Russia, to better equip our allies on the eastern flank to deal with Russian threats and, at the same time, to do more to deal with terrorism and instability in the Middle East, which the president himself said should be something NATO pays more attention to.

MARTIN: Well, speaking of defense spending, according to The Washington Post, that President Trump has told senior aides that he wants to cut U.S. spending on Europe's defense if NATO allies don't contribute more to NATO. Now, he's said this quite a number of times. How are NATO countries responding to this? Has their attitude about this changed at all over the course of the year?

VERSHBOW: Well, this is a case where the president could actually claim some credit - not quite declare victory because it's a work in progress, but all the allies are now increasing their defense spending. More and more of them are committing to a game plan that will get them to the 2 percent of GDP target by 2024, which is what they all pledged to do in 2014. A few countries could do better, and he can tell them that once again at the summit. But spending is an area where NATO is doing the right thing.

MARTIN: I'm wondering if we can glean the president's attitude toward NATO or his current sort of views on his commitment to NATO from his posture during this summit. And I'm also - because I'm being mindful of the fact that, when he went to the G-7 meeting, the communique all seemed customary. And then, when he was leaving, there were these conflicts, particularly with the Canadians, that seemed to continue to have repercussions. So I'm just wondering if we'll be able to understand better what his true posture is during or after the summit.

VERSHBOW: Well, I think the president usually is fairly unambiguous. And if he decides to repeat his pattern of behavior at the G-7, we'll know it pretty clearly. You know, I hope he takes a different approach and doesn't pull the U.S. agreement from the declaration that I'm sure is nicely drafted already by all the diplomats in Brussels.

MARTIN: You know, right after the NATO summit, President Trump is going to hit Helsinki, Finland, to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. As you know that this whole meeting is very controversial in the United States and, one has to assume, with NATO as well. How should we look at this meeting, and how are the NATO allies looking at this meeting? Do you think that they'll be discussing this during the summit? What's your sense of it?

VERSHBOW: Well, I imagine the allies will be sort of asking what he's trying to achieve with Putin because, for the Russians, just having the meeting is already a kind of a victory. It shows the Russian people and the rest of the world that Russia is no longer isolated, that the punishments that it's been suffering under is beginning to dissipate - all for basically doing nothing to justify that. So if the president departs from allied positions on the unacceptability of the Russian annexation of Crimea or their sponsorship of the illegal war in Eastern Ukraine, the allies are going to be worried that we're just taking the heat off Russia when we need to increase the pressure on Russia.

So, you know, hopefully, he'll reassure them that, you know, he's not going to give anything away. But, judging by how he handled the meeting with Kim Jong Un in Singapore, allies are real worried that he's more interested in the photo op and not in defending Western principles.

MARTIN: That's Alexander Vershbow. He's a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council, a former deputy secretary general to NATO and a former ambassador to Russia and South Korea.

Ambassador, thank you so much for speaking with us.

VERSHBOW: You're very welcome.

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