US President Donald Trump has accused Iran of killing thousands of protesters while speaking at the Nato leaders’ meeting in London.
At a joint press conference with the Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Mr Trump addressed widespread popular protests in Iran which have been met by a brutal government crackdown.
“Iran is killing thousands of people in Iran right now,” Mr Trump said. He said civilians had become targets “for the mere fact they are protesting”.
Iran has been rocked, in recent weeks, by the largest protests against the government in the 40-year history of the regime in Tehran. Human rights groups have said possibly more than 450 protesters were killed during the initial four days of violence which followed a sudden hike in domestic petrol prices.
Setting the agenda for the two-day summit in London, Mr Trump also bristled at Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 missile defence system from Russia.
He said Ankara had lost “billions” over the purchase which has driven a wedge between the US and Turkey. There are fears that the integration of the Russian defence system could pose a risk to Nato’s and America’s own defence systems.
Mr Trump was expected only to appear for photos with the Nato Secretary General and make a few brief remarks. But the US president took the opportunity to seize the agenda at the start of the two-day summit and hit out at the French President Emmanuel Macron.
Mr Trump said the French leader’s comments had been “insulting” and “nasty”. In the run-up to the summit, Mr Macron has said Nato has become strategically “brain-dead”, particularly over the US withdrawal from northern Syria.
The US president went as far as saying he could see France breaking off from Nato, which he described as a surprise, because he believes Paris needs more military support than other members.
“I do see France breaking off,” Trump told reporters. “I’m looking at [Mr Macron] and I’m saying that he needs protection more than anybody and I see him breaking off. So I’m a little surprised at that.”
For the third summit in a row, Trump is expected to renew demands that European allies and Canada step up defence spending. He has also shown that he will not be looking to mollify Mr Macron, who insists that strategic questions must be addressed, like improving ties with Russia and how to handle Turkey.
After the breakfast meeting with Mr Trump, the Nato Secretary General tried to play down the rifts between members. He said it was not right to question the Western alliance’s security guarantee but that he was working to solve a dispute with Turkey over allied plans to defend the Baltics.
Asked if the issue could be resolved by the end of the London summit, he said: “I will not promise that, but what I can say is that we are working on that. But it is not like NATO doesn’t have a plan to defend the Baltic countries.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he still will not agree to a Nato defence proposal for Poland and the Baltic nations until the alliance supports Ankara’s concerns related to Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Before setting off to attend a Nato leaders’ summit in London, Mr Erdogan said he would discuss the issue with the leaders of Poland and the Baltics during the gathering.