US President Donald Trump has accused his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron of being “nasty” for saying Nato was “brain dead”.
Mr Trump is in London for a summit marking the bloc’s 70th anniversary.
At a news conference, Mr Trump said Nato served a great purpose and Mr Macron’s remarks had been “very insulting”.
He also said he could see France “breaking off” from Nato, but did not explain why.
Nato – the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – was founded after World War Two to counter the threat of Soviet expansion. The 29 member states pledge to come to the aid of one another should any come under attack.
But speaking last month, Mr Macron had complained that Nato members were no longer co-operating on key issues.
He described the alliance as “brain dead”, stressing what he saw as a waning commitment from its biggest guarantor – the US.
The summit, due to get under way later on Tuesday, has already been overshadowed by a bitter row between member states France and Turkey, and a continuing debate over money.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he will oppose Nato’s plan for the defence of the Baltic if it does not back Turkey over its fight against Kurdish groups it considers terrorists.
What did Mr Trump say?
Sitting alongside Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, President Trump said Nato “serves a great purpose”, but was then asked what he thought about Mr Macron’s statements.
He said he thought the French leader had been “very disrespectful” to other alliance members.
“It is a very, very nasty statement. I think they have a very high unemployment rate in France. France is not doing well economically at all,” he said.Media captionNato explained in 80 seconds
“It is a very tough statement to make when you have such difficulty in France when you look at what is going on. They have had a very rough year. You just can’t go around making statements like that about Nato. It is very disrespectful.”
He added: “Nobody needs Nato more than France… the US benefits the least. It’s a very dangerous statement for them to make.
“I’m looking at him [Mr Macron] and I’m saying that he needs protection more than anybody and I see him breaking off [from Nato]. So I’m a little surprised at that.”
Mr Trump reiterated his long-standing complaint that many other Nato members were not contributing enough financially. He singled out Germany as falling short. According to Nato’s latest figures, Germany spends 1.36% of GDP on defence when the Nato guideline is 2%.
But he added: “The world has changed a lot and Nato is changing right now. I’ve become a bigger fan of Nato because they have become more flexible.”
Mr Erdogan had earlier joined the dispute, suggesting that Mr Macron was the one who was “brain dead”, accusing him of “a sick and shallow understanding” of terrorism.