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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

POTUS' story of a change at NATO is contradicted by others

The defense-spending deal negotiated this week sounds the same as the one outlined in a 2014 agreement.

President Donald Trump takes questions during a news

President Donald Trump takes questions during a news conference at the NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday. Photo Credit: Marlene Awaad

The question lingered Thursday, as it has before, whether President Donald Trump's claim to a diplomatic victory would have any real-life impact — or if anybody won anything.

The American president pushed a narrative about how he played hard ball with NATO members and got them to hike military spending beyond what they'd already committed.

“I told people that I’d be very unhappy if they did not up their commitments very substantially,” Trump said after a key meeting. “Everyone’s agreed to substantially up their commitment. They are going to up it at levels never thought of before.”

Usually you'd expect a big public agreement of any kind to be announced jointly by the parties involved. That didn't happen in this case.

Trump's story, as he told it at a news conference, sprang holes within hours.

This was as specific as it got:

He said NATO members agreed to increase the percentage of their countries' gross domestic product devoted to defense to 2 percent earlier than the 2024 target date agreed on during the Obama presidency.

But Giuseppe Conte, Italy's new populist premier, said “Italy has inherited spending commitments that we haven’t changed. So there is no additional spending."

French President Emmanuel Macron referred reporters to a communiqué that recommitted alliance members to their pledge in 2014 to adhere to the 2024 date.

"The communiqué is clear. It reaffirms a commitment to 2 percent in 2024. That is all," Macron said.

For his part, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his nation's increased spending commitments would be in line with the 2014 commitment.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was -- well -- diplomatic. He said Trump instilled a "new sense of urgency" toward the same 2 percent target. 

Whatever the impact on budgets, though, the show of pressing NATO to take a more competitive military-spending position with Russia could make Trump look strong going into his meeting next week with President Vladimir Putin.

Perhaps it also helps the American president fight any suspicion in the short term that he tilts more to Russia than NATO. 

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