NATO summit: Trump talks Syria with Turkish leader, says ‘it was time to leave’

U.S. President Donald Trump took an unscheduled meeting with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the NATO anniversary summit in London Wednesday, and said they agreed the situation in Syria is “going very well.”

U.S. President Donald Trump poses Wednesday with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg during the NATO summit Wednesday in London. Photo by Facundo Arrizbalaga

NATO leaders gathered at a hotel outside London for Wednesday’s plenary session of the alliance’s 70th anniversary summit. They discussed challenges to Western security, including terrorism and cyber threats.

Trump met with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and was scheduled to take later meetings in private with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

The U.S. president said he discussed security in a pull aside meeting with Erdogan.

“We discussed Syria. We discussed the Kurds. We discussed numerous things, and we’re getting along very well,” Trump said. “The border and the safe zone is working out very well. And I gave a lot of credit to Turkey for that. The cease-fire is holding very much so.”

“We have soldiers where the oil is. And that’s the way I like it,” he added. “But this has been a border under siege for many, many decades, and it was time for us to leave, and we left, and it’s been holding very nicely. So we’re very happy.”

The U.S. president was also set for a “working lunch” with whom the White House called “2-percenters” — nine allied nations that have met the NATO guideline of spending at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. Those nations are the United States, Britain, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Lithuania and Bulgaria.

Trump was scheduled for a news conference at 10:30 a.m. EST, but tweeted that he decided against it.

“We did so many over the past two days,” he said.

Earlier, Trump started the session with Johnson and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at The Grove hotel in Watford before participating in a photo session with each of the other 28 NATO leaders at the summit.

“The fact that we live in peace today demonstrates the power of the simple proposition at the heart of this alliance: That for as long as we stand together, no one could hope to defeat us — and therefore no one will start a war,” Johnson said in his opening remarks.

In their bilateral meeting, Trump and Johnson discussed trade and national security.

“The two leaders again reaffirmed the importance of the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States and discussed their priorities,” the White House said in a statement. “Including the importance of both nations working together to ensure the security of our telecommunication networks and guard against untrusted providers.”

Wednesday’s session followed several moments of tension a day earlier between Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron, who arrived at the summit saying he had no regrets about controversial remarks he made in an interview last month that asserted NATO was near “brain death,” due in part to what he called the United States’ waning interest in the alliance. Trump on Tuesday called the comments “very nasty” and “disrespectful,” and his later one-on-one meeting with Macron, in front of assembled press, was visibly tense.

Johnson opened Wednesday’s plenary session with an address in which he attempted to smooth over the tense relationship, by citing the motto of the literary Three Musketeers.

“If NATO has a motto, it is one for all, and all for one,” he said.

The French leader told reporters Wednesday his comments were appropriate and “allowed us to raise some crucial debates.”

More personality conflicts were evident on Day 2 of the summit, as video footage showed Macron, Johnson, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Princess Anne — seemingly gossiping about Trump — during Tuesday night’s NATO reception at Buckingham Palace.

The footage included Macron and Trudeau joking with Johnson and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte about a press conference that had run late. Johnson asked Macron, “is that why you were late?” — to which Trudeau replies, “he is late because he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top,” an apparent reference the Macron-Trump meeting earlier Tuesday. Trump had also met with Trudeau in a bilateral meeting Tuesday.

When asked about the video Wednesday, Trump called the Canadian prime minister a “very nice guy,” but added, “He’s two-faced.”

“The truth is I called him out on the fact that he’s not paying 2 percent and he’s not very happy about it,” he added.

“It’s Canada. They have money. And they should be paying 2 percent. So I called him out on that, and I’m sure he wasn’t happy about that, but that’s the way it is.

“I’m representing the U.S. And he should be paying more than he’s paying. And he understands it. So I can imagine he’s not that happy.”

After his scheduled news conference Wednesday, the president and first lady Melania Trump will depart for London’s Stansted Airport and return to the United States. They are expected to arrive later Wednesday night.

ByDon Jacobson