WATFORD, England — President Trump, who has long demeaned his rivals for being laughed at around the world, found himself the scorned child on the global playground Wednesday as widely circulated video showed some of his foreign counterparts gossiping about and mocking him.
The video captured Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appearing to laugh at a Buckingham Palace reception Tuesday evening with French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and others about Trump’s performance during an earlier bilateral meeting and painted White House aides as agog at the president’s behavior.
And so it was Wednesday morning that Trump presented a sulking, brooding president as he engaged on the sidelines of the NATO summit at a secluded estate here outside London. Trump abruptly canceled a planned news conference at the summit’s conclusion, arguing that he had already answered so many questions from reporters in other settings during his visit to England.
Asked by journalists about Trudeau’s mockery, Trump fired back at the Canadian prime minister. “Well, he’s two-faced,” Trump said of Trudeau. “And honestly, with Trudeau, he’s a nice guy. I find him to be a very nice guy. But, you know, the truth is that I called him out on the fact that he’s not paying 2 percent and I guess he’s not very happy about it.”
Trump was later caught on an audio recording bragging to an unidentified summit attendee, “That was funny when I said that guy was two-faced.”
During their Tuesday meeting, Trump needled Trudeau over Canada’s defense spending, labeling the country “slightly delinquent” for failing to meet NATO’s defense spending guidelines for member nations of 2 percent of gross domestic product.
Trudeau explained his reception comments by telling reporters that he had been referring to Trump’s announcement that he would host the next Group of Seven summit at Camp David, which he thought surprised his aides. Trudeau said he was “pleased” to recount the moment with fellow leaders and that Canada’s relationship with the United States remained “extraordinary.”
Candid video appears to show Trudeau, Macron and Johnson joking about Trump
Trump’s visit to the NATO summit was erratic. The president who has long criticized the 70-year-old alliance, at times this week cast himself as its defender, while at other moments chastised allies for, in his view, taking advantage of the United States.
Inside a closed-door session, Trump read a prepared statement to his fellow leaders listing off grievances about defense spending. But he did not threaten other countries in the same way he had done in previous NATO meetings, according to five NATO diplomats and policymakers who were either inside the room or listened to the conversation from a separate chamber.
“There were no threats; it wasn’t like last time,” said one policymaker, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door meeting. Trump “always prefers to have a tough image, but he fell in with the general effort to portray what’s happening as a success,” the official added.
Trump told fellow leaders that “if trade imbalances were taken into account, then the United States would be spending 90 percent of NATO’s defense,” according to the official.
The fact that most of the leaders, including Trump simply read off their prepared statements rather than engaging in angry back-and-forth was a sign of a calmer summit than previous encounters, such as last year’s gathering in Brussels, several of the officials said.
Another leader, pushing back gently at Trump by trying to demonstrate the importance of defending Europe, pointed out that if Russia took over Western Europe, the size of its collective economy would swell larger than that of the United States, one official said.
Macron, too, was softer inside the meeting than outside of it, and did not repeat his widely-publicized comments about NATO suffering from “brain death.”
As he entered the NATO meeting on Wednesday, Macron declared that he was satisfied with the conversation he had stirred up and slammed Trump’s single-minded focus on defense spending yet again.
“I think our responsibility is to lift the ambiguities that can be harmful and to take on a real strategic debate,” Macron said. “Our debate should concern things other than financial questions alone.”
Another NATO disruptor, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ultimately backed down from blocking crucial military plans to defend Eastern Europe — a concession to fellow allies.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg pushed back Wednesday against Macron’s warnings about the health of the alliance, growing animated as he trumpeted what he said were NATO’s successes in recent years.
“That’s not the case,” Stoltenberg said on his way into the meeting, after being asked whether the alliance’s brain activity had indeed flatlined. “NATO is agile, NATO is active, NATO is adapting.”
As impeachment inquiry rages at home, Trump unsettles the world stage at NATO
He said that the disagreements were not a challenge to NATO’s fundamental mission of defending each other in case of attack.
“Disagreements will always attract more attention than when we agree,” Stoltenberg told reporters. “The strength of NATO is that we have always been able to overcome these differences and then unite around our core task to protect and defend each other.”
Trump was scheduled for a day of highs and lows: After the three-hour discussion with all 28 other NATO leaders, he planned to have lunch with representatives from countries that are meeting alliance spending guidelines of 2 percent of gross domestic product — the “NATO 2%ers” as the White House dubbed the coalition. It could be a moment to showcase his efforts to boost European defense contributions, which have been a fixation for Trump throughout his presidency.
Trump met privately with Turkey’s Erdogan on the sidelines of the summit for what one official said was nearly half an hour. Unlike Trump’s other meetings with foreign counterparts, his visit with Erdogan was not on his public schedule and journalists were not permitted to cover it. After the Turkish government shared a photograph of the tete-a-tete on social media, a White House spokesman confirmed that the two presidents had met. They discussed trade, energy and regional security challenges, according to the White House.
Trump also met one-on-one with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has clashed with him in the past. Germany says it will meet the spending goals only in 2030, six years later than it agreed in 2014.
Trump on Tuesday previewed an acrimonious discussion with Merkel by calling Germany and some other countries “delinquent.” He argued that their current spending levels put an unfair burden on the United States, and he threatened to retaliate with a trade war.
Sitting across from Merkel on Wednesday, Trump brought up trade, saying, “We’ve had a very bad imbalance for many, many years — for decades, actually — and we’re discussing that right now.”
While in London, Trump has found that the summit’s host, Johnson, has been avoiding public contact with him. Johnson faces an election on Dec. 12, and with Trump deeply unpopular in Britain, too much face time between the two populists could be politically toxic.
Trump tweeted Wednesday that the two men had a cordial conversation the evening before.
“Enjoyed my meeting with Prime Minister @BorisJohnson of the United Kingdom at @10DowningStreet last night,” Trump wrote. “Talked about numerous subjects including @NATO and Trade.”
Johnson tried to brush off a question Wednesday morning about why he was avoiding photos with Trump, declaring that “I’m going to be photographed with every possible leader of NATO. We’re having a very successful meeting.”
Johnson similarly dodged a question about what mocking Trump along with Trudeau and Macron in the viral video, telling reporters, “That’s complete nonsense. I don’t know where that’s come from.”