Donald Trump Says NATO Secretary General Is His 'Biggest Fan'

President Donald Trump has declared that his incessant jibes at U.S. allies to spend more on defense has made NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg “Trump’s biggest fan,” while Russia must regret ever liking the ex-Apprentice host.

Speaking at a rally ahead of his trip to Europe later this month, during which he will visit both the NATO headquarters in Belgium and meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland, Trump gave another glimpse into his thoughts on the U.S. relationship with its top allies.

Trump’s decision to hit Germany, France and other top European exporters with steel and aluminium tariffs has done nothing to reverse his low popularity on the continent, and on Thursday he returned to another contentious topic—allied defense spending.

“We go away on Monday… I’ll see lots of people. I’ll see NATO and I’m going to tell NATO: ‘You gotta start paying your bills. The United States is not going to take care of everything,'” Trump told his supporters in Montana, broadcast live on CSPAN. “We’re paying on anywhere between 70 and 90 percent to protect Europe and that’s fine. Of course, they kill us on trade.”

07_06_Trump_rally U.S. president Donald Trump greets supporters during a campaign rally at Four Seasons Arena on July 5, 2018 in Great Falls, Montana. During the rally Trump shared his thoughts about his relationship with NATO and Russia. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Trump once again claimed the U.S. had a trade deficit of $151 billion with the European Union—a figure that is around $50 billion greater than his own administration’s statistics, which include services as well as goods.

European Commission head, Jean-Claude Juncker, argued the figure is largely inaccurate as it neglects to include services and U.S. profits, resulting not in a deficit but a $14 billion surplus from trade with the E.U., Bloomberg reported.

“They make it impossible to do business in Europe,” Trump insisted at his rally. “And on top of that they kill us with NATO. They kill us.”

Trump once again directed his ridicule at Germany for its traditionally lower military budget in recent years. Since reunification in 1989, Berlin has shown an aversion to instigating a military build-up and participating in overseas conflicts. He recounted an unspecified exchange with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the issue.

“I said, you know, Angela, I can’t guarantee it, but we’re protecting you and it means a lot more to you than protecting us cause I don’t know how much protection we get by protecting you,” Trump said.

“By the way, I have to say this, since I came, which is a year and a half, almost $33 billion more is projected to be paid by those NATO nations, but it’s not enough. Do they ever tell you that? No. No. But I will tell you the Secretary General [Jens] Stoltenberg is Trump’s biggest fan,” Trump insisted, arguing NATO spending had gone “just like a rocket ship” since he entered office.

NATO allies are indeed collectively spending more on defense, however the plan to do so precedes Trump’s presidency. After Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, all NATO Allies pledged to end cuts to their respective defence budgets and move toward spending 2 percent of their GDP on defence by 2024.

A NATO official told Newsweek that since 2014, all allies have stopped defense cuts and started to increase their defense budgets, while most have a plan in place to meet the 2 percent target by 2024. Germany is on the verge of doing so, currently planning on reaching 1.5 percent of GDP by 2024, which constitutes an 80 percent increase in a decade, according to Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen.

During Stoltenberg’s visit to Washington in May he and Trump exchanged pleasantries as Stoltenberg said Trump had made a “real impact,” while Trump thanked the former Norwegian prime minister for doing “a tremendous job at NATO.”

The conversation made no mention of rocket ships. While Stoltenberg cited the increasing military budgets of NATO nations, Trump was the one to invite praise for his actions, asking: “Do you give me credit for that?”

Read More: Germany’s Angela Merkel is depressed by Donald Trump’s tweets

“You have helped to do that because your leadership has been important,” Stoltenberg said, according to a State Department transcript. At Trump’s rally, the president suggested he had done enough to allay fears among Americans that he did not view U.S. allies favorably.

“If then they say, ‘Oh let’s see, he’s angry at NATO. I guess, yeah, he loves Russia. I love Russia.’ I will say this, I’m meeting with President Putin next week and getting along with Russia and getting along with China and getting along with other countries is a good thing. It’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing,” Trump said.

“And you look at all the money NATO is getting now. They are probably saying in Russia, ‘You know, if we did like this guy, we made a big mistake.’”

Yet despite his administration’s actions, it is Trump’s personal feelings toward Russia that pose a concern according to Michael McFaul, a former U.S ambassador to Russia, who told Newsweek earlier this week that Washington now had “two policies towards Russia, not one.”

“There’s a lot of continuity with the Obama administration, and in many instances—such as lethal assistance to Ukraine—they have gone further,” McFaul said. “But what is missing is the president himself. He often disagrees with his own administration’s policy; that’s the paradox of this moment.”