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U.S. Ambassador To NATO Discusses President Trump And The Alliance


President Trump's European tour opens with a NATO summit in Brussels tomorrow, then it's on to the U.K. and finally a meeting Monday in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin. That last stop is among many things making European leaders uneasy about Trump's visit. There are also his warnings to NATO allies to increase their defense spending which he talked and tweeted about just before his departure. Our colleague Mary Louise Kelly is in London. She talked today with the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, who joined her from Brussels.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Ambassador Hutchison, thanks so much for taking the time. Welcome back to the program.

KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: It's great to be there with you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Help me figure out what the U.S. message going into this summit will be because I have seen you, Ambassador, giving a number of interviews in the last couple of days talking about unity, talking about common goals. And I have watched President Trump, who just took off to fly to the summit. And as he was preparing to leave, he tweeted with a threat. He said, quote, "NATO countries must pay more. The United States must pay less - very unfair" - exclamation point. How should we square those two messages, Ambassador?

HUTCHISON: I think the president in his way is saying to our European allies that everyone needs to do more, that the strength of our alliance is that everyone is contributing their fair share. And I think he says it in his way, and I think the allies are accepting of that.

KELLY: But let me press you. When the president delivers a message like that as he's preparing to fly over, does it risk alienating American allies at a moment when the U.S. really needs them?

HUTCHISON: I think that he has been so open and so plain about it that the NATO allies have taken notice. You know, he isn't the first president who has said Europeans need to pay more. Every president I served with in the United States Senate starting with President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama said the same thing. I think that President Trump is saying it in a way that the European allies are stepping up. And I think we will see billions more spent by our allies, which is for our overall umbrella of security.

KELLY: I want to ask you directly about the fear that is being raised in European capitals and in some quarters in Washington, which is that President Trump will show up at this NATO summit, that he will pick a fight with NATO allies, and then he will move on and have a warm and fuzzy summit with Vladimir Putin in a couple of days in Helsinki. Do you hear those concerns? Can you rule out something along those lines happening?

HUTCHISON: Well, I can't rule out anything, Mary Louise, because, you know, I'm not in a position to do that. But I believe from what I have heard in my circles that President Putin is going to have a meeting with a strong President Trump coming from a strong NATO alliance summit where President Trump can tell President Putin he needs to change his behavior. He is doing too many malign activities in all of our countries that are in the alliance. He is trying to probe to see where our alliance is weak and then draw fissures into the alliance. And he cannot do that if we are strong and united, which in this summit we will be.

KELLY: One last question before I let you go, which is - I wanted to allow you to respond to another fear that's being openly discussed, which is that, big picture, President Trump is out to wreck the liberal world order, wreck alliances like NATO, like the EU and replace those with bilateral agreements and with a isolationist America, an "America First" foreign policy. I mean, you're on the front lines of U.S. foreign policy. Do you see that?

HUTCHISON: Well, I think the president has said "America First" is not America only. I think we are much stronger in NATO speaking with 29 voices and the backup of 29 who will say, we are going to stand up against Russia, against malign influence, against attempts to divide us. And I think that is a much stronger position than a country like Russia who has no allies. But look at our alliances. We have allies who are strong and capable. We need them to step up and put that together in the alliance, and that's what I think the president is trying to do.

KELLY: Ambassador Hutchison, thank you.

HUTCHISON: Mary Louise, thank you very much.

CHANG: The U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, speaking to our co-host Mary Louise Kelly, who's reporting from London all this week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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