U.S. President Donald Trump continues on his first foreign trip, met the heads of European Union institutions in Brussels on Thursday ahead of a summit of NATO leaders at the military alliance’s headquarters in the city later in the day.
Trump, on the fourth leg of his first foreign trip since taking office, was greeted by European Council President Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister who chairs meetings of the 28 EU leaders.
Also joining the talks will be the bloc’s chief executive, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
Trump, who voiced scepticism while campaigning about the EU’s value and hailed Britain’s Brexit vote to quit the bloc, will hear a call from European leaders for him to maintain Washington’s longstanding support for integration on the continent, as well to support free trade and efforts to combat climate change.
Trump questioned the relevance of the NATO military alliance as a presidential candidate, and is considering pulling the U.S. out of the Paris agreement on climate change, a huge concern in Europe.
The EU was also a party to the Iran nuclear agreement, which Trump has criticized sharply.
“We expect him to recommit to NATO’s founding rule that an attack against one ally is an attack against all,” said a senior European diplomat at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
“Words matter and there is a huge expectation on that.”
Trump will also meet Europe’s chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk, who chairs EU summits, in the morning.
He will then go to NATO’s new, billion-dollar headquarters where he will unveil a memorial to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.
There Trump, in his only scheduled public remarks before a dinner with NATO leaders, is expected to pledge his full support to the alliance he once called “obsolete” because he said it was not doing enough to stop terrorism.
NATO hopes to impress Trump with military bands, allied jets flying overhead and a walk through the glass-and-steel headquarters, which replaces a leaking, 1960s prefab structure.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump would press NATO leaders hard to spend more on defense and take on more of the burden of paying for the alliance, a message Trump has reiterated repeatedly before and after entering the White House.
Trump wants NATO to join the battle against Islamic State, Tillerson told reporters on Air Force One.
NATO ambassadors agreed on Wednesday for the Western military alliance to join the U.S.-led, 68-nation coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, paving the way for a formal endorsement by NATO leaders.
There may be tension at the EU meeting, too, given the U.S. president’s earlier apparent disdain for the bloc. In January, Trump labeled the European Union a “vehicle for Germany”, called Britain’s decision to leave the bloc a “great thing” and said more countries would follow.
But EU officials were pleased he was fitting in the visit at all and noted that his critical tone had changed after meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington and after sending U.S. Vice President Mike Pence to Europe this year.
Trump told Reuters in February the EU was “wonderful”.
EU leaders may be looking for hints from Trump about the U.S. trade relationship after the president kicked off plans to renegotiate the NAFTA agreement with Canada and Mexico.
U.S.-EU trade represents about 46 per cent of the global economy, said Jeffrey Rathke, a Europe expert at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, but negotiations on a broad EU-U.S. free-trade agreement have been on hold since Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama left office.
“The administration has not yet articulated any kind of agenda for the (trade) relationship with the European Union,” Rathke said.
“This is a big, glaring hole …This meeting may be an opportunity to start setting some direction on that,” he told reporters ahead of the trip.