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.
Trump is scheduled to have talks with French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg; he is due to meet 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 December 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 that 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 GDP (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 spend was made by the U.S., at 3.4% of its GDP, while the lowest spend was by Luxembourg which only spent 0.55%.
It's the first visit Trump has made to the country since his state visit in June when Trump and the first lady were welcomed with full pomp and pageantry (and widespread protests) to the country.
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.