LONDON — Donald Trump called Justin Trudeau “two-faced” but also a “very nice guy” after the Canadian prime minister was caught on video seemingly talking critically with other world leaders about the U.S. president.
The video was shot during a reception at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday night, hours after Trudeau and Trump met on the sidelines of a gathering of leaders from the NATO military alliance. It immediately sparked concerns about a possible backlash against Canada from the prickly president.
The footage shows Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson asking France’s President Emmanuel Macron why he was late, to which Trudeau can be heard saying: “He was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top.”
The reception footage also shows Trudeau saying “his team’s jaws drop to the floor” about someone, though it’s not completely certain whom he’s talking about.
On Wednesday morning, Trudeau downplayed the conversation, telling reporters he was referring to news of the next G7 meeting location.
“We were all surprised and I think pleased to learn that the next G7 will be at Camp David. I think that was an unscheduled announcement,” he said. “Every different leader has teams who every now and then have their jaws drop at unscheduled surprises, like that video itself for example.”
The prime minister said his remark on why Macron was late referred to “an unscheduled press conference before my meeting with President Trump, and I was happy to take part in it, but it was certainly notable.”
Watch excerpts of Trudeau press conference. Story continues below.
The video of Trudeau, who was speaking to Johnson, Macron, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Princess Anne, quickly went viral after it was released and was reported on by international media outlets, including the New York Times, Fox News and the BBC.
Trump was asked a question about Trudeau’s comments during a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“Well, he’s two-faced,” Trump said of Trudeau. “And honestly, with Trudeau, he’s a nice guy. I find him to be a very nice guy. But you know, the truth is that I called him out on the fact that he’s not paying two per cent, and I guess he’s not very happy about it,” the president adding, referencing Canada’s defence spending.
Watch Trump’s response:
Trump went on to suggest Trudeau was upset that the U.S. president had called out Canada for not spending two per cent of its gross domestic product — a common measure of national wealth — on its military, as all NATO allies have agreed to do.
“He’s not paying two per cent and he should be paying two per cent,” Trump said. “It’s Canada, they have money and they should be paying two per cent. So I called him out on that and I’m sure he’s wasn’t happy about that, but that’s the way it is.”
Canada is currently spending 1.31 per cent of its GDP on defence.
The surprisingly gentle rebuke — at least by Trump’s standards — follows concerns Trudeau’s comments could result in a backlash against Canada from the president.
“Justin Trudeau’s poor judgment, lack of professionalism and love of drama continues to weaken Canada’s position on the world stage,” Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer told his caucus on Wednesday.
The U.S. president also previously attacked Trudeau following the G7 summit in Quebec City in June 2018, describing the prime minister as “so meek and mild” amid a trade row over Canadian dairy and American tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, and then accusing him of making false statements once Trump was gone.
“Very dishonest & weak,” Trump tweeted.
The new video nonetheless threatened to undermine not only Trudeau’s efforts to boost the NATO alliance at a time of internal divisions and external threats, but also Canada’s own relations with the White House.
Trudeau underscored his “very good relationship with President Trump and his team” on Wednesday, and highlighted “a number of good conversations with the president over the course of this day and yesterday.”
Trump’s public appearance with Trudeau lasted more than half an hour and included questions about China and the impeachment process, and also saw the Canadian prime minister deflecting questions from the U.S. president about Canada’s defence spending.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 4, 2019.
With files from HuffPost Canada