The incident nearly took place off-camera after the press conference (full video below) concluded, but moments before the cameras switched off, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis leaned over to US President Donald Trump and made a brief correction.
“Greece is paying more than two percent in NATO,” Mitsotakis said, smiling afterward.
The prime minister’s comment came in response to Trump’s statement moments before. The president had questioned why certain European countries were not paying their due share of two percent in the NATO alliance.
“Why isn’t France and why isn’t Germany, and maybe I could say ‘Why isn’t Greece?’” Trump said. “But why aren’t all of these countries… why aren’t they paying?”
He later added: “Why is it that the United States pays and it affects Europe far more than it affects the United States? So why isn’t it that France, Germany and all of those countries in Europe that are so strongly affected — why aren’t they paying? Why is it always [the US]?”
After Mitsotakis corrected Trump and said that Greece pays more than the minimum two percent in NATO, the president responded, “Good. That’s true.”
According to data from the 2018 NATO report provided by Euronews, Greece ranked among five other European countries — Estonia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Britain — that spent more than two percent of their GDP on defense.
Greece also ranked second to only the United States in defense spending — among all NATO countries.
When former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras visited Washington DC in October 2017, President Trump had applauded Greece for upholding its financial commitment to NATO during his official remarks.
“I also commend Greece for being one of the few NATO countries currently spending at least 2 percent of GDP on defense,” Trump said, later adding, “We also are making great strides in our economic cooperation. The American people stand with the Greek people as they recover from the economic crisis that recently afflicted their nation.”
Yesterday’s speculation — “and maybe I could say ‘Why isn’t Greece?’” — diverged from his previous statement.
The Mitsotakis-Trump meeting came amid recent United States’ tensions with Iran after an American airstrike killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.
The two met for the second time since the Greek prime minister’s election in July 2019.
During Monday’s Greek Orthodox Epiphany celebrations in Tarpon Springs, Florida, Mitsotakis said that he had planned to inform Trump of “the serious dangers that Turkey’s aggressive and illegal behavior raises for peace and security” in the Eastern Mediterranean while confirming Greece’s role as a “long-term, reliable but also predictable ally” in the region.
An unnamed senior US government official said that Greece has become a “pillar of stability” in the Eastern Mediterranean and that the meeting marked a milestone in Greek-American relations.
“From a source of problems Greece has now become a source of solutions. It is also a pillar of stability that constitutes a crucial piece of America’s broader strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean,” the official told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency on Tuesday.
Watch the press conference
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