Europeans use Nato summit to build contacts with affiliates of Donald Trump


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European delegations to a Nato leaders’ summit in Washington this week have sought meetings with foreign policy associates of Donald Trump, as nervousness rises inside the military alliance regarding President Joe Biden’s re-election prospects.

Biden is trailing in the polls and under intense pressure to withdraw from the White House race after a disastrous debate performance last month reignited deep concerns in his party over his age and fitness for office.

Ministers and senior officials from multiple European governments, particularly from eastern European and Nordic governments, have sought meetings this week with Trump-related figures such as Keith Kellogg, former chief of staff in the National Security Council; former secretary of state Mike Pompeo; and former national security adviser Robert O’Brien, people familiar with the outreach efforts told the Financial Times.

The meetings are on the sidelines of this week’s Nato summit, which was initially billed as a chance for host Biden to present himself at the head of a united western alliance, but has now become overshadowed by the calls from members of his Democratic party for him to abandon his re-election campaign.

Trump, an outspoken Nato critic, has spooked many European capitals with remarks suggesting that if he were to win back the White House in November the US might not defend all its Nato allies. He has also raised the possibility of suspending military aid to Ukraine if Kyiv rejects peace talks with Moscow.

Foreign embassies in Washington have been increasingly focused on building contacts within a potential future Trump administration as the election cycle has heated up. Diplomats are wary of being caught flat-footed after they were surprised by his electoral win in 2016.

“Regardless of what we think about their stance [on Europe], we need to talk to them,” said one of the people briefed on the outreach to Trump affiliates, adding that building contacts before November was now a sensible approach.

Many diplomats and analysts have looked to the America First Policy Institute, a Trump-friendly think-tank where Kellogg co-chairs its security programme, for signals of how Trump might lead in a second term.

Kellogg and Fred Fleitz recently authored a report outlining an end to the Ukraine war that would pressure Kyiv and Moscow to the negotiating table and made waves in Washington and in European capitals.

A spokesperson for America First did not immediately respond to a request for comment. O’Brien was not able to receive any European delegations as he was not in Washington this week, a person familiar with the matter said.

In private conversations around the summit, many European officials have voiced exasperation at how the election campaign has overshadowed Nato ambitions for the meeting, especially given their inability to influence a situation that ultimately could have an outsized impact on their future security.

“His future has overshadowed the whole week,” said one senior European diplomat, referring to Biden’s health and candidacy. “It’s a mess.”

Additional reporting by James Politi



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