REUTERS – Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has raised fresh questions about his commitment to automatically defend NATO allies if they were attacked, a stance in keeping with his "America First" agenda, the New York Times reported.
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In response to a question about potential Russian aggression towards the Baltic states, Trump told the newspaper in an interview that if Moscow attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations "have fulfilled their obligations to us".
He added: "If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes."
Trump was quoted as saying he would force allies to shoulder defense costs that the United States has borne for decades, cancel longstanding treaties he views as unfavorable, and redefine what it means to be a partner of the United States.
"I would prefer to be able to continue" existing agreements, he said, but only if allies stopped taking advantage of what he called an era of American largess, the New York Times wrote.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's senior foreign policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, said in a statement: "Trump has apparently decided that America lacks the moral authority to advance our interests and values around the world."
Former Republican rival Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina joined the criticism, saying Trump's remarks made the world more dangerous and the United States less safe.
"The GOP nominee for President is essentially telling Russians/other bad actors the US is not fully committed to supporting NATO alliance," Graham wrote on Twitter. "I can only imagine how our allies in NATO, particularly the Balkan states, must feel after reading these comments from Mr. Trump."
David Corn, Washington bureau chief of the Mother Jones news website, said in a tweet that Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort had told him the candidate had been misquoted.
Reuters was unsuccessful in attempts to reach Trump campaign staff for comment late on Wednesday.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday that he would not interfere in the U.S. election campaign but added that solidarity among allies was a key value for the group.
"This is good for European security and good for U.S. security," the NATO head said in a statement. "The United States has always stood by its European allies."
Trump has for months raised questions about the money the United States pours into NATO, which he says needs to be reconfigured to take account of today's global threats.
His rhetoric has raised alarm in allied countries that still rely on the U.S. defense umbrella. The phrase "America First" was used in the 1930s by isolationists who sought to keep the United States out of World War Two.
Trump was quoted as saying that if elected, he would not exert pressure on Turkey or other authoritarian allies about purging political opponents or cracking down on civil liberties.
He said the United States has to "fix our own mess" before trying to sway the behavior of other nations.
"I don't think we have a right to lecture," Trump was quoted as saying.
"Look at what is happening in our country," he added. "How are we going to lecture when people are shooting policemen in cold blood?"