LONDON — President Donald Trump touched down in the U.K. on Monday night ahead of a highly anticipated NATO meeting, marking 70 years since the alliance's creation.
The gathering comes amid overt tensions between some leaders regarding spending pledges, how to tackle the challenges posed by Russia and China, and the relevance of NATO itself.
The two-day meeting is taking place just outside of London, in Watford, with high-profile delegates then heading to Buckingham Palace in the evening where Queen Elizabeth II will host NATO heads of state and government for dinner.
Having met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday morning, Trump gave a press conference with the NATO chief in which he commented on a range of subjects, from Turkey's involvement in Syria to a potential post-Brexit trade deal with the U.K.
Trump insisted that access to the U.K.'s National Health Service in a potential deal — a possibility that has caused a stir in the U.K. — would not interest the U.S., "even if it was presented on a silver platter." He also discussed developments in a potential U.S.-China trade deal.
Trump is scheduled to have talks with French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday. It's unclear if the U.S. president will meet with Prime Minister Boris Johnson with the U.K. leader apparently keen for Trump not to involve himself in Britain's domestic politics ahead of an upcoming election on Dec. 12.
Trump's meeting with his French counterpart Macron — due to take place at the U.S. ambassador to the U.K.'s residence where Trump and first lady Melania Trump stayed Monday night — could be an awkward affair given the U.S. administration's threats to impose import tariffs of up to 100% on $2.4 billion worth of French imports.
The U.S. trade representative has identified several goods, including Champagne, handbags and Gruyere cheese that could be targeted.The U.S. said Monday the move is a response to a French digital services tax that it believes "unfairly targeted" American tech companies.
Defense spending among NATO allies, or the lack thereof (a persistent bugbear of Trump, and of his predecessor Barack Obama) is also likely to feature prominently in this week's summit.
Although NATO members have increased their defense spending dramatically over the last five years, according to NATO defense spend data, many members are still not hitting a target set in 2014 when members agreed to spend a minimum of 2% of their gross domestic product on defense.
NATO estimates for 2019, released in June, show that only the U.S., U.K., Greece, Estonia, Romania, Poland and Latvia have met or surpassed that target. The highest defense spending based on GDP was made by the U.S., at 3.4% of its GDP, while the lowest was by Luxembourg, which spent only 0.55%.
It's the first visit Trump has made to the country since his state visit in June when he and the first lady were welcomed with full pomp and pageantry — and widespread protests.
Protests and crowds in London are expected to be large in the capital. The last time the president was in London, tens of thousands of demonstrators closed many major roadways and a 20-foot "Trump baby" blimp flew over the crowds.
On Tuesday, ahead of the formal start of the NATO "Leaders Summit" on Tuesday evening, a demonstration under the banner of "No to Trump – No to NATO" will be held in the capital.