- As Thousands March Against Trump in Belgium
After a warm welcome in the Middle East and a “fantastic” visit with the pope, US President Donald Trump walks on shakier ground on Thursday when European Union and NATO leaders will press him on defence, trade, and environmental concerns.
The Republican president, midway through his first foreign trip since taking office, has basked in the glow of favourable receptions in Riyadh and Jerusalem, where leaders lauded his harsh words for Iran.
Praise may be in shorter supply in Brussels.
Trump questioned the relevance of the NATO military alliance as a presidential candidate, and is considering pulling the United States out of the Paris agreement on climate change – a huge concern in Europe. The EU was also a party to the Iran nuclear agreement, which Trump has criticized sharply.
“We expect him to recommit to NATO`s founding rule that an attack against one ally is an attack against all,” said a senior European diplomat at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“Words matter and there is a huge expectation on that.”
Trump will also meet Europe`s chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk, who chairs EU summits, in the morning.
He will then go to NATO`s new, billion-dollar headquarters where he will unveil a memorial to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.
There Trump, in his only scheduled public remarks before a dinner with NATO leaders, is expected to pledge his full support to the alliance he once called “obsolete” because he said it was not doing enough to stop terrorism.
NATO hopes to impress Trump with military bands, allied jets flying overhead and a walk through the glass-and-steel headquarters, which replaces a leaking, 1960s prefab structure.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump would press NATO leaders hard to spend more on defence and take on more of the burden of paying for the alliance, a message Trump has reiterated repeatedly before and after entering the White House.
Trump wants NATO to join the battle against Islamic State, Tillerson told reporters on Air Force One.
In the meantime, thousands of protesters took to the streets Wednesday to protest U.S. President Donald Trump’s arrival in the city he previously likened to a “hellhole.”
“If you don’t want Trump in Belgium clap your hands,” chanted some, while others opted for “hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go.”
Marchers carried colorful flags and banners inscribed with slogans such as “Fight Donald Trump and his billionaire friends” and “stay out of our hole,” a reference to an interview Trump gave last year in which he described Brussels as “like living in a hellhole right now.”
According to capital police, 9,000 people attended the rally.
The president and first lady Melania Trump arrived in Brussels Wednesday for the fourth leg of his first foreign trip as commander-in-chief. He will spend just over 24 hours in the city before flying to Sicily for the G7 summit.
The main reason for his visit to this city — the heartland of the European Union — is to attend a NATO summit in which he is expected to push for members to boost defense spending to the equivalent of two percent of their GDP, in an effort to better share the cost of the alliance’s budget.
But for the Belgians protesting in the streets on Wednesday, the president was not welcome in their country as long as he continued to push “his war agenda.”
“He wants Europe to spend more money on war when he should be investing in peace,” said Ludo De Brabander, one of the organizers of the demonstration. “If all the EU member states pay two percent of their GDP on military spending, that’s billions of dollars that should be spent helping the poor, not investing into a war machine,” he added.
Many of the protesters out in the early summer sun were a mix of pacifists, women’s and student groups, left-wing trade unionists and environmental activists all marching under an anti-Trump banner. Members of the extreme-left anarchist group black bloc also turned up, lighting torches which billowed black plumes of smoke.
Others were unaffiliated members of the public who simply wanted to voice their objection to Trump’s policies.
“I came particularly to fight against climate change,” said Katrien Vandevelde, 49. “Trump is accelerating the melting of the ice caps. I so wish the moment he gets home he will be impeached and we can get Bernie Sanders and have the whole world fighting against global warming.”
“Trump is a dangerous man,” said Malika Bali, a 62-year-old from Brussels who was protesting with her granddaughter.
“He doesn’t like foreigners, he doesn’t like women and he is not welcome here,” she added.
Zee with additional report from NBC