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After Mixed Messages, NATO Officials Anxiously Await Trump's Visit


While in Brussels, the president will be visiting some very anxious allies at NATO headquarters. He's already flip-flopped once on what he thinks of the 68-year-old military alliance.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I said it was obsolete. It's no longer obsolete.

CORNISH: Trump and his staff are still working on the remarks he will make tomorrow, but his main message is already clear - to get allies to boost their defense spending. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: On the flight from Rome to Brussels, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson outlined what he calls the core theme of President Trump's visit to NATO.


REX TILLERSON: He really wants to persuade NATO members to step up and fully meet their obligations under burden sharing. The 2 percent of GDP is - was a target they all agreed to. I think you can expect the President to be very tough them.

KELEMEN: NATO's newer members want to hear a different message, though. Is the U.S. committed to collective security? A top foreign ministry official from Latvia, Andrejs Pildegovics, was in Washington recently explaining why his country is so worried about that.

ANDREJS PILDEGOVICS: We've been taking security very seriously. We have suffered from a deficit of security historically. We are located on the crossroads between north and south, east and west. So we are borderliners (ph) of the European Union and NATO.

KELEMEN: The United States never recognized the Soviet occupation of Latvia and the other Baltic states Estonia and Lithuania. And Pildegovics says that's one reason why his country wants to see the U.S. remain committed to a free Europe and willing to push back at Russia's aggression in Ukraine.

PILDEGOVICS: Don't get me wrong. Latvia is not anti-Russian. But we are against policies which resemble 19th century attitudes. We are against those spheres of influence. These are not empty words. These are all beliefs, and we believe that United States, democratic countries should preserve those principles.

KELEMEN: The Latvian state secretary says his country has sent troops to tough places, including Afghanistan and Iraq, and is committed to paying its fair share for NATO. NATO allies are also pledging to do more to fight terrorism. Trump says this should be the priority, especially in the wake of this week's attack at a concert in Manchester.


TRUMP: When you see something like happened two days ago, you realize how important it is to win this fight. And we will win this fight. It's a horrible situation. What took place is horrible, unthinkable. But we will win 100 percent.

KELEMEN: NATO may take a mostly symbolic step of formally joining the coalition against ISIS. In return, many allies are hoping to hear a firm U.S. commitment to the common defense pledge, Article 5 which says an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all. Secretary of State Tillerson was asked about that onboard Air Force One.


TILLERSON: Yeah, of course we support Article 5. You know, the only time Article 5's been invoked was at 9/11 on our behalf.

KELEMEN: President Trump is to unveil a piece of the World Trade Center when he visits the new NATO's headquarters. Asked whether he will reaffirm the U.S. commitment to Article 5 there, Tillerson would only say the remarks are still being finalized. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRAINWALTZERA'S "10 MUDDY PUDDLE TROT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.