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Has President Trump's Relationship With NATO Changed?


Leaders from NATO's 29 member countries are gathering in London this morning. For 70 years, U.S. leadership was at the core of NATO. But President Trump has questioned the value of the alliance. He has called it obsolete. And then French President Emmanuel Macron said NATO was experiencing brain death. This morning, President Trump responded to that comment. Here's what he said.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I think nobody needs it more than France. And that's why I think that when France makes a statement like they made about NATO, that's a very dangerous statement for them to make.

KING: Kay Bailey Hutchison is the U.S. ambassador to NATO. She's on the line from London. Good morning, ambassador.

KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So that was an interesting statement by President Trump. He has, of course, been very critical of NATO in the past. But then today, he criticized French President Macron for criticizing NATO. Has something changed for President Trump? Has his thinking about NATO changed recently?

HUTCHISON: I think that President Trump, when he first came into office, did really talk straight to the NATO allies and said Europeans need to do more. And I have to say, Noel, I've served with four presidents. All of them have said the same thing. But the president was very forceful. And now we see defense spending increasing. We see the common fund sharing going more toward help with that common fund from the Europeans.

And I think he sees now the value and that Europeans are stepping up. And he is acknowledging that. And I think his disruptive tone, I think, produced good results. And I think he is concerned that President Macron is criticizing but not doing anything to make a statement about what NATO should be and can be.

KING: What do you think the future of NATO will look like? And what role will the United States play in it?

HUTCHISON: Well, first of all, the United States will be the leader of NATO. We will always be the leader of NATO because we have the capability. But we also have the will. We have the will to be clear-eyed about other entities that would be bad actors such as terrorists, such as Russian aggression in Ukraine and other places. And looking at China, we have the will to determine what we need to guard against. And that is really the essence of our leadership in NATO.

KING: Some have questioned, though - some have questioned whether President Trump wants that leadership role, whether he does have the will. And this is based on statements that he has made in the past. Is today - are we saying that his statements today - can we say he's turned a new page?

HUTCHISON: You know, I think when I heard him today at the press conference - I was with him. He was talking about how he saw that NATO is flexible, they are adapting - adapting to the changing world, adapting to what's happening with China and the build-up that we're seeing.

And I think that he is very positive about the strengthening, that burden-sharing has increased. We have to have the money in order to have the equipment and the capabilities that we need. He's seeing that. And he's saying that the flexibility and adaptability is what we must have. And we must stay together.

KING: There have been some disagreements that have emerged at this summit. Turkish President Erdogan is demanding that NATO recognize groups like the Kurdish YPG as terrorists. Will NATO do what Turkey wants in this case?

HUTCHISON: No. Absolutely not. Our allies are very firm about what YPG has done in Syria to wipe out ISIS. ISIS is our worst enemy. And the Kurds have been out there fighting with us and really doing the work to eliminate ISIS, which is in our interests. It's in Europe's interests. So I will tell you that our alliance is very strong in understanding what the Kurds have done with ISIS - and that is our common enemy.

KING: All right. That is an interesting point. And it will be interesting to see how Turkey responds to that. Kay Bailey Hutchison is the U.S. ambassador to NATO. She also served as a United States senator for 20 years. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

HUTCHISON: Thank you, Noel. Glad to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.