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Leaders From NATO's 29-Member Countries Meet In London


Leaders from NATO's 29 member countries are meeting in London this morning. For 70 years, U.S. leadership has been at the core of NATO, but President Trump has questioned the value of the alliance. And so of course, many people are wondering what he will say on this trip.

NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is in London. She's with us now. Hey, Tam.


KING: So in a couple of hours, President Trump is going to meet with France's president, Emmanuel Macron. Now, this meeting is notable and potentially awkward because just yesterday the Trump administration said the U.S. might impose tariffs on some French products. What is this dispute about?

KEITH: Right. Awkward is the right word for how this meeting might go.


KEITH: The U.S. trade representative is saying that France's digital services tax discriminates against American tech giants - companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook. So in response, the administration wants to impose tariffs - 100% tariffs on $2.4 billion worth of French imports. And of course, because this is a trade war, they are targeting things like champagne and blue cheese. President Trump was asked about it during what became a very extended Q&A - about 50 minutes of Q&A. And here's what he said.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Emmanuel had an idea - let's tax those companies. Well, they're American companies. I'm not going to let people take advantage of American companies. Because if anyone's going to take advantage of the American companies, it's going to be us. It's not going to be France.

KEITH: It's not clear what he means about wanting to take advantage of American companies. But the message is clear that he doesn't want France imposing taxes on U.S. tech giants.

KING: Ultimately, Tam, this summit is about NATO and the member countries. And you know, the reason that people are keeping such a close eye on this is that there are strains in this alliance right now. Right?

KEITH: Absolutely. There are two major fissures at the moment. One is Turkey. Turkish President Erdogan, this morning, said that he wanted NATO to designate the YPG - these are Syrian Kurdish allies of the United States - wants them designated as a terrorist organization. And he's saying that if NATO doesn't do that, he won't support NATO's defense plans for Poland and the Baltic States against Russia. Another issue with Turkey is that it has purchased missile systems from Russia, which is making the rest of the NATO alliance very uncomfortable.

And then there's France. Macron recently said that NATO was brain-dead due to a lack of leadership and direction. Now, President Trump himself, as you mentioned, has been critical of the alliance in the past, calling it obsolete. But now President Trump is hitting back against Macron and saying that he shouldn't be saying that about NATO.


TRUMP: But I think nobody needs it more than France. And that's why I think that when France makes a statement like they made about NATO, it's a very dangerous statement for them to make.

KEITH: He says that by saying this, France is insulting 28 other countries. It's sort of a fascinating reversal...

KING: Yes.

KEITH: ...For a president who, for so long, was so critical of NATO. But you know, Trump, as with many things, sort of is claiming that he's made NATO great again.

KING: Even as President Trump is in London making those claims, in Washington, the House is moving in head - ahead with the impeachment inquiry. Has he mentioned that on this trip at all?

KEITH: Well, he's certainly been asked about it. And he is - he's saying that it's very unpatriotic of Democrats and very bad for our country, he said - continues to call it a hoax. He was asked about what he thought of the idea of censure instead of impeachment - one of the ideas that's been floated. And he says, why would anybody censure me? I've done nothing wrong. You can't have censure if you have a perfect phone call. So President Trump is holding firm and saying that it is not a distraction, though certainly he's being asked about it.

KING: Just quickly - next week, Great Britain holds elections. The British prime minister, Boris Johnson, has asked President Trump to stay out of it. Will he?

KEITH: Well, he has sort of stayed out of it. He says that he has no thoughts on it, that he will stay out of it. But then he also said that Boris is very capable and he'll do a good job. He was asked about Jeremy Corbyn, and Trump said, I know nothing about the guy.

KING: OK. There we go. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith in London. Tam, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.