Trump stirs talk in Europe

Trump stirs talk in Europe
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BRUSSELS — U.S. allies are watching Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpJoe Arpaio loses bid for his old position as sheriff Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet MORE with a wary eye. 

Trump's presence hung over this month's NATO meeting in Brussels, even though he wasn’t on the agenda as a scheduled topic for discussion.

Most foreign officials were reluctant to talk about Trump to a U.S. reporter when prompted — even for an off-the-record remark.  A British diplomat attending the summit let out a loud and long laugh when asked about Trump, before adding he would defer to his American colleagues.

Other diplomats attending the meeting noted NATO officials are not supposed to formally discuss the internal affairs of any member nations. 

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Still, one attendee from an Eastern European country acknowledged, there was plenty of “informal cafeteria talk” about the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. 

“There is a degree of disbelief,” he said. “It's not really thought of as a very possible scenario that he will be president.

“Although,” he added, “if I look back at myself maybe a year ago, I didn't really think he was going to be nominated.”

The interest is especially keen among NATO allies because Trump has disparaged them repeatedly on the campaign trail, calling the alliance “obsolete.”

He has also criticized its members for not contributing more to NATO's budget, compared to the U.S. He has also called Brussels — home to NATO's headquarters — a “hellhole” and all of Europe a “total disaster” because of its immigration policies. 

Trump also recently claimed credit for news that NATO is moving toward creating a senior intelligence post, even after NATO officials rejected his claim. 

And Trump continues to inject himself into the conversation. During a recent campaign speech he said, ”Belgium is a beautiful city” in a likely reference to Brussels, the Belgian city hosting the NATO meeting. He then continued to mock the alliance. 

“The last major NATO mission was Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocratic convention lineup to include Ocasio-Cortez, Clinton, Warren: reports Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Kanye West 'not denying' his campaign seeks to damage Biden MORE's war in Libya. That mission helped unleash ISIS on a new continent,” he said in a new criticism of the alliance on Wednesday. 

Other diplomats at the summit who didn't want to speak on the record tried to be diplomatic about Trump, with one Italian diplomat quoting the adage, “There is no such thing as bad publicity,” and noting it was the first time in memory a U.S. presidential election discussed NATO.

Another Italian diplomat noted that Trump has a “huge media presence” that resonates, admitting it was a “factor” at the NATO summit. 

Indeed, several international newspapers on the shelves of a small shop at the NATO headquarters featured Trump’s remarks on the Orlando nightclub shooting on the front page.  

“Trump uses Orlando to call for new migrant ban,” read the top story on the Times of London's June 14 front page. 

“Orlando puts campaign on edge,” read the headlines of Netherlands paper Trouw, with the subhead: “Clinton relies on the help of American Muslims against terrorist threats. Trump called Muslims Trojan horse.”

NATO’s top official, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, downplayed Trump's influence on the alliance and its members, but then defended the alliance against his criticism.  

“We have many other concerns than the U.S. election campaign,” he said, prompting laughter among the European press, when asked by The Hill on Tuesday whether Trump's remarks were causing concern among NATO members. 

“We are as relevant as ever,” he added in response to Trump’s assertion that the alliance isn’t doing enough, before listing the steps NATO is taking to combat terrorism.

A NATO official said Stoltenberg's comments underscore deeper concern throughout the alliance, since they represent the consensus among its 28 members.

The diplomat from Eastern Europe acknowledged there is real worry that Trump’s attacks on the alliance are resonating with the American public.

“We are maybe a little bit worried about what the effects will be,” he said. “We've really enjoyed, especially countries that joined after the Cold War, the strong commitment of the different [U.S. administrations to] Europe...and there are many nations that think it's absolutely necessary to continue that, to guarantee stability of Europe.

“Questioning U.S. commitment to NATO is something that runs against that goal,” he said. “If the question is raised openly at a very high level, one does get doubt this kind of support will not continue.”

Trump has also laid out an “America First” policy that would seek to put U.S. interests first in dealings with other nations, and see a less active international role than under President Obama.

“Many people hope that these waves don't involve NATO,” the diplomat said.

As for now, he said Trump had no real influence on actual policy. When informed Trump had taken credit for NATO's creation of the senior intelligence post, he erupted in laughter.

“Really? I missed that! Sorry, I missed that!” he said, laughing and slapping the table. 

The NATO official said the idea was discussed in December — three months before Trump even began talking about NATO. 

One Spanish diplomat who didn't want to speak on the record said he thinks if elected, Trump will moderate his stances. 

Another NATO official agreed, saying he didn't think Trump actually knew anything about NATO, and his comments so far have just been campaign talk to get elected. 

But for now, although officials are reticent to discuss Trump, it is not for lack of concern.

Many are quietly hoping he won’t be elected, the Eastern European diplomat said. 

“I think that’s a big element,” he said.