Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a...

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a Get Out The Vote rally at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024. Credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta

NEW YORK — Donald Trump said that, as president, he warned NATO allies that he “would encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to countries that are “delinquent” as the front-runner for the Republican nomination ramped up his attacks on foreign aid and long-standing international alliances. NATO's leader said Trump's words could undermine security and put American and European forces at risk.

Speaking at a rally Saturday in Conway, South Carolina, Trump recounted a story he has told before about an unidentified NATO member who confronted him over his threat not to defend members who fail to meet the trans-Atlantic alliance’s defense spending targets.

But this time, Trump went further, saying had told the member that he would, in fact, “encourage” Russia to do as it wishes in that case.

“‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?’” Trump recounted saying. “‘No I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.’”

NATO allies agreed in 2014, after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, to halt the spending cuts they had made after the Cold War and move toward spending 2% of their GDPs on defense by 2024.

NATO's secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, said in a statement Sunday that "any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the U.S., and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk.” The defense minister in Poland, which has been under Russian control more often than not since the end of the 18th century, “no election campaign is an excuse for playing with the security of the alliance.”

Earlier, White House spokesperson Andrew Bates responded to Trump's comments by saying that "encouraging invasions of our closest allies by murderous regimes is appalling and unhinged – and it endangers American national security, global stability, and our economy at home.”

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump arrives to speak...

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump arrives to speak at the National Rifle Association's Presidential Forum in Harrisburg, Pa., Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. Credit: AP/Matt Rourke

Trump's remarks come as Ukraine remains mired in its efforts to stave off Russia's 2022 invasion and as Republicans in Congress have become increasingly skeptical of providing additional aid money to the country as it struggles with stalled counteroffensives and weapons shortfalls.

Trump also called for the end of foreign aid “WITHOUT “STRINGS” ATTACHED,” arguing that the U.S. should dramatically curtail the way it provides money.

“FROM THIS POINT FORWARD, ARE YOU LISTENING U.S. SENATE(?), NO MONEY IN THE FORM OF FOREIGN AID SHOULD BE GIVEN TO ANY COUNTRY UNLESS IT IS DONE AS A LOAN, NOT JUST A GIVEAWAY," Trump wrote on his social media network in all-caps letters.

Trump went on to say the money could be loaned “ON EXTRAORDINARILY GOOD TERMS," with no interest and no date for repayment. But he said that, “IF THE COUNTRY WE ARE HELPING EVER TURNS AGAINST US, OR STRIKES IT RICH SOMETIME IN THE FUTURE, THE LOAN WILL BE PAID OFF AND THE MONEY RETURNED TO THE UNITED STATES.”

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump arrives to speak...

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump arrives to speak at the National Rifle Association's Presidential Forum in Harrisburg, Pa., Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. Credit: AP/Matt Rourke

During his 2016 campaign, Trump alarmed Western allies by warning that the United States, under his leadership, might abandon its NATO treaty commitments and only come to the defense of countries that meet the alliance’s guidelines by committing 2 percent of their gross domestic products to military spending.

Trump, as president, eventually endorsed NATO’s Article 5 mutual defense clause, which states that an armed attack against one or more of its members shall be considered an attack against all members. But he often depicted NATO allies as leeches on the U.S. military and openly questioned the value of the military alliance that has defined American foreign policy for decades.

“NATO has been a success story for the last 75 years,” said GOP presidential rival Nikki Haley, who was Trump's U.N. ambassador. She told CBS' “face the Nation” on Sunday that after the 9/11 attacks, “we needed a lot of friends. We can never get into the point where we don’t need friends. Now, we do want NATO allies to pull their weight. But there are ways you can do that without sitting there and telling Russia, have your way with these countries.”

As of 2022, NATO reported that seven of what are now 31 NATO member countries were meeting that obligation — up from three in 2014. Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine has spurred additional military spending by some NATO members.

Trump has often tried to take credit for that increase, and bragged again Saturday that, as a results of his threats, “hundreds of billions of dollars came into NATO”— even though countries do not pay NATO directly.

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AP White House Correspondent Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

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