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Trudeau attends NATO leaders' summit as Russia escalates aggression toward Ukraine

WASHINGTON, D. C. 鈥 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was on the defensive about sa国际传媒's defence spending Tuesday as he gave a speech ahead of the NATO leaders' summit in Washington, D.C.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waves as he boards a government plane as he departs for the NATO Summit from the airport on July 8, 2024 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

WASHINGTON, D. C. 鈥 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was on the defensive about sa国际传媒's defence spending Tuesday as he gave a speech ahead of the NATO leaders' summit in Washington, D.C.

Trudeau spoke to about 100 people at the Canadian Embassy, touting his government's leadership in the alliance on climate change and the recent accreditation of the country's first NATO centre of excellence in Montreal, which is focused on climate change and security.

But he also made note of the elephant in the room: the fact that allies are looking for assurances that his government will present a plan to meet the defence spending target it agreed to last year.

"When we took office, sa国际传媒 was spending less than one per cent of our GDP on defence each year, but we vowed to change that, and we have followed through on our word," he said.

Still sa国际传媒 is falling far shy of the target NATO countries agreed to about a decade ago. That is to spend at least the equivalent of two per cent of their national gross domestic product on defence. sa国际传媒's current spend is almost 1.4 per cent.

Kirsten Hillman, sa国际传媒's ambassador to the U.S., has said she's faced some pressure on the issue from American officials, who expect every country to step up as much as it can.

Hillman joined Trudeau on Tuesday morning for a bipartisan meeting with U.S. senators, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The meeting included some of the 23 senators who wrote Trudeau a letter in May urging him to come to the summit with a clear plan to meet the NATO target. Under sa国际传媒's new defence policy, the federal government estimates its defence spending will rise to 1.76 per cent of GDP by 2029-30. The senators called that "profoundly disappointing" in the letter.

Following the meeting, McConnell called sa国际传媒 out for its spending failures.

"Shared values and close economic ties have always been the strength of the U.S.-sa国际传媒 relationship," McConnell said on X, formerly known as Twitter. "But it鈥檚 time for our northern ally to invest seriously in the hard power required to help preserve prosperity and security."

On Monday afternoon, Defence Minister Bill Blair said he looks forward to talking with allies about sa国际传媒's "credible, verifiable" defence spending plan.

The 32 NATO leaders are marking the alliance's 75th anniversary this week as Russia escalates its aggression toward Ukraine.

The war will top the agenda of the three-day summit following Russian missile attacks Monday that left death and destruction, including at a large children's hospital in Kyiv.

New, robust measures to support Ukraine are set to be announced during the summit, and officials say there will be information on the war-ravaged country's efforts toward NATO membership.

At last year's summit, attendees agreed that Ukraine should join the alliance once conditions permit 鈥 namely, the end of the Russian invasion and Ukraine making a series of democratic reforms to stamp out corruption.

Trudeau is expected to make forceful comments about the need to stay resolute in backing Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited a D.C. memorial dedicated to the millions of people who died in the man-made famine of 1932-33 known as the Holodomor on Tuesday morning.

He posted on social media that he plans to ask NATO allies for more air-defence systems, more F-16 fighter jets, more money and "the necessary decisive actions by America and Europe" to defeat Russia.

Trudeau also met separately Tuesday with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, where electric vehicles, critical minerals and the clean energy transition were among the issues on the agenda.

In advance of the presidential election this fall, the Liberal government launched a new Team sa国际传媒 approach that has seen ministers and diplomats and Trudeau himself pounding the pavement across the U.S. to make sure Canadians are prepared for any outcome.

The possibility of a second Donald Trump presidency hangs over sa国际传媒, after Trudeau faced criticism for being unprepared for the first one. Their relationship faced struggles throughout Trump's first term.

Trump is also top of mind among many at the NATO summit, after his remarks that the U.S. would not defend NATO alliance members who aren't meeting their spending targets.

Trudeau did not take the bait to comment on the presidential race, which has become even hotter following the dismal performance by President Joe Biden in a recent debate.

The prime minister dodged a question from a reporter about whether he had concerns about Biden's age or mental acuity, responding only that he was honoured to be meeting with the U.S. politicians.

Biden made an attempt to convince allies and Americans he was up to the job during a critical speech at a celebration for the alliance's 75th anniversary Tuesday evening.

The president promised more air defence systems for Ukraine as the summit opened at the Mellon Auditorium, where NATO was established in 1949.

Biden also presented NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg with a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 9, 2024.

鈥 With files from Sarah Ritchie in Ottawa.

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press