Trump tells NATO leaders to increase defense spend to 4 percent

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump told NATO leaders on Wednesday they should increase their defense spending to 4 percent of their country's economic output, double the group's current goal of two percent. NATO allies shrugged off the demand as part and parcel of Trump's brash push for allies to spend more on their own defense at a summit in Brussels, with a quip from the alliance's chief that it should aim to meet its goal before reaching further. "We should first get to 2 pct," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, adding that eight of the 29 allies were meeting that target, while others had a plan to do - turning a leaf on years of defense budget cuts. Striking a strident tone at the summit, Trump's aspirational target of 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) was above the United States own spending on defense. The United States, the world's biggest military power, spent some 3.57 percent on defense last year, according to NATO figures. A White House spokeswoman said his remarks came as he was urging leaders to increase their outlays on defense and were not a formal proposal. "He suggested that countries not only meet their commitment of 2 percent of their GDP on defense spending, but that they increase it to 4 percent," Sarah Sanders told reporters. "Trump wants to see our allies share more of the burden and at a very minimum meet their already stated obligations." A source close to French President Emmanuel Macron also played down Trump's words as rhetoric, saying "it is not a new demand." (Reporting by Jeff Mason, Jeff Mason David Brunnstrom, Humeyra Pamuk and Marine Pennetier; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Will James)