German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen promises US significant defense budget increase

Speaking in Washington, German Defense Minister von der Leyen said Germany is committed to increasing its defense budget. US Defense Secretary Mattis said Germany's spending plan is "on the right track."

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday reaffirmed Germany's commitment to significantly increasing its defense budget.

Germany announced earlier this month that it will increase its defense spending to 1.5 percent of GDP by 2024, but will fail to meet its NATO spending obligation of 2 percent of GDP.

Speaking in Washington after meeting with US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, von der Leyen said Germany still has the NATO spending target firmly in its sights. She added that the German government has covered "a part of the stretch" towards this goal.

"We know in Germany that we have to take on our share of the burden to defend our democracies and our values," von der Leyen said. "We're willing and committed to doing so. We've come a long way. There's still a lot to do."

Mattis, who is considered by many in Europe one of the last reliable partners in US President Donald Trump's Cabinet, said he is satisfied with Germany's contribution to NATO and its plans to increase its defense budget.

"I think they are on the right track," Mattis said Wednesday. "We welcome the announcement that Germany wants to increase its defense spending by 80 percent by 2024."

Mattis added that he and von der Leyen speak frequently, and that he "does not take this relationship for granted." The United States has repeatedly called on European allies, and Germany in particular, to increase defense spending.

Von der Leyen said the friendship between the two countries "lies very close to our hearts," telling Mattis that "it is good to have friends like you."

Pressure from Trump

Von der Leyen's visit to the Pentagon was one stop on a multi-destination US tour. She met with John Bolton, Trump's national security advisor, and was to meet the US Secretary of State later Wednesday.

Berlin and Washington have been arguing for months regarding Germany's defense budget, which was 1.24 percent of GDP last year. Defense spending has been hugely unpopular in Germany, and constitutional limitations on what the country's postwar military is permitted to do is often cited as the reason against military spending.

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Trump blasted Europe's defense spending at the recent G7 meeting in Canada. The US currently pays 22 percent of NATO's spending budget, by far more than any of the other 28 members of the group.

Jens Stoltenberg, the head of NATO, has also pressed Germany to increase defense spending, given its stable economy, but agreed with Merkel that there should be "trans-Atlantic unity" between the allies.

Politics

The good, the bad and the ugly

US President Donald Trump has offered both candid praise and unabashed criticism of Germany and its policies. From calling German Chancellor Angela Merkel "possibly the greatest world leader" to describing her open-door refugee policy as a "catastrophic mistake," here are his most memorable quotes regarding Germany.

Politics

'Greatest'

"Germany's like sitting back silent, collecting money and making a fortune with probably the greatest leader in the world today, Merkel," Trump said in a 2015 interview with US news magazine Time.

Politics

'Very bad'

"The Germans are bad, very bad ... Look at the millions of cars they sell in the US. Terrible. We'll stop that," Trump said during a NATO leaders summit, according to German news magazine Der Spiegel, which cited sources at the alliance's meeting.

Politics

'Something in common'

"As far as wiretapping, I guess, by - you know - [the Obama] administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps," Trump said in March during a press conference with Merkel. He was referring to his unproven allegations that ex-President Barack Obama tapped his phone. There was widespread anger in Germany in 2013 when it was revealed the US National Security Agency tapped Merkel's phone.

Politics

'Illegals'

"I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals (sic), you know taking all of the people from wherever they come from," Trump said in a joint interview published by German daily Bild and British newspaper The Times, referring to Merkel's open-door policy for refugees fleeing war and persecution.

Politics

'Germany owes vast sums of money'

"Despite what you have heard from the fake news, I had a great meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Nevertheless, Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO and the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany," Trump said in a two-tweet statement after meeting with Merkel for the first time in March 2017.

Politics

'Turning their backs'

"The people of Germany are turning against their leadership as migration is rocking the already tenuous Berlin coalition," Trump tweeted in the midst of a row within the German goverment. He went on to claim that: "Crime in Germany is way up. Big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!"

dv/sms (AFP, dpa)

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