Donald Trump has rowed back on his claim that Nato is “obsolete”, saying his earlier comments were made when he did “not know much about” the military alliance.
The US President told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer during the presidential campaign that the 28-member state organisation was redundant and overly expensive for the US – a claim he repeated shortly before taking office in January.
"We are paying disproportionately,” he said at the time. “It's too much, and frankly it's a different world than it was when we originally conceived of the idea."
Asked about his previous comments during an interview with the Associated Press, Mr Trump said they were a result of him “not knowing much” about Nato.
”They had a quote from me that Nato’s obsolete,” he said. “But they didn't say why it was obsolete. I was on Wolf Blitzer - very fair interview - the first time I was ever asked about Nato, because I wasn't in government.
“People don't go around asking about Nato if I'm building a building in Manhattan, right? So they asked me, Wolf ... asked me about Nato, and I said two things. Nato's obsolete — not knowing much about Nato, now I know a lot about Nato — Nato is obsolete, and I said, ‘And the reason it's obsolete is because of the fact they don't focus on terrorism.’ You know, back when they did Nato there was no such thing as terrorism.”
Mr Trump appeared to change tack during a press conference with Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s Secretary-General, earlier in April.
The Republican told reporters the organisation “is no longer obsolete”, adding: “I complained about that a long time ago, and they made a change and now they do fight terrorism”.
Critics, however, pointed out that Nato has long been involved in fighting against terrorist organisations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The organisation first issued a declaration on terrorism in 1980 and in 2012 updated its counter-terrorism plan to say: “The Alliance strives at all times to remain aware of the evolving threat from terrorism; to ensure it has adequate capabilities to prevent, protect against, and respond to terrorist threats.”
Speaking to AP, Mr Trump insisted he was right to say Nato was obsolete and overly-reliant on American funding.
“I was right about both” he said. “I took such heat for about three days on both, because nobody ever criticised Nato. I took heat like you wouldn't believe. And then some expert on Nato said, ‘You know, Trump is right’."
He repeated his belief that other Nato members must contribute more funding to the organisation and said he would raise the issue when he travels to Brussels for a Nato summit in May.
“It's not fair that we're paying close to four per cent and other countries that are more directly affected are paying one per cent when they're supposed to be paying two per cent”, he said. “And I'm very strong on it and I'm going to be very strong on it when I go there in a month."