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NATO leader says Trump puts allies at risk

WARSAW, Poland — NATO leader warned Sunday that Donald Trump was putting the security of U.S. troops and allies at risk after the Republican presidential candidate said Russia “should do whatever it wants” to alliance members who do not do so. They fail to meet their defense spending targets.

Trump’s remarks caused deep concern in Poland, a country in central Europe that has been mostly under Russian control since the end of the 18th century. “No election campaign can be an excuse to play with the security of the alliance,” said Defense Minister Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz.

Speaking at a rally in Conway, South Carolina, on Saturday, Trump recalled telling an unidentified NATO member that as president he would “encourage” Russia to do what it wants in the case of NATO allies who are “guilty.”

“’Didn’t you pay? Are you guilty?’” Trump was quoted as saying. ‘No, I won’t protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever they want. You must pay. You have to pay your bills.’”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that 31 allies are determined to defend each other.

“NATO remains ready and able to defend all its allies. “Any attack on NATO will be met with a united and strong response,” Stoltenberg said. “Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the United States, and puts American and European soldiers at greater risk.”

Stoltenberg added in his statement that he expects that “no matter who wins the presidential election, the United States will remain a strong and determined NATO ally.”

The German government has not officially commented on Trump’s remarks, but the country’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Sunday morning highlighting NATO’s principle of solidarity.

“‘One for all, all for one.’ “This NATO faith keeps more than 950 million people safe from Anchorage to Erzurum,” the State Department said on X, its former Twitter account.

German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote in its editorial: “If Trump becomes US president again, such statements will increase the risk of Putin expanding his war. “There is only one thing Europeans can do to counter this: finally invest in their military security in line with the seriousness of the situation.”

Trump’s comments were of particular concern to NATO front-line countries such as Poland and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which were either under Moscow’s control or fully absorbed into the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Fears there are particularly high due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

While in office, Trump had threatened not to aid any country under attack that he felt owed money to NATO and the United States and did not spend enough on defense. His attitude destabilized the alliance, especially the countries whose borders were close to Russia.

Under the mutual defense clause, Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty, all allies undertake to assist any member attacked. Article 5 has only been invoked once by the United States, following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

After Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, NATO leaders decided to halt the cuts in defense spending that followed the end of the Cold War and move to spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on their military budgets. No country owes any debt to another or to NATO.

NATO has carried out its largest military build-up since the Cold War since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Cook reported from Brussels. Associated Press writer Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.

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