Trump, Slovakia’s prime minister celebrate strong economies

President Donald Trump greets Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, May 3, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) –The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump and the prime minister of Slovakia congratulated each other Friday on the respective strength of their nations’ economies as the two leaders met at the White House.

Peter Pellegrini is the latest central European leader to visit the White House as the U.S. works to curry favor in the region as a counterbalance to Russia and China.

Pellegrini said Trump has been very clear that European nations must do much more on defense, and he stressed that Slovakia is doing just that. Pellegrini said his country is ahead of schedule to increase its defense spending to 2 percent of gross national product.

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“By 2022, we will be on that number,” Pellegrini said.

That’s two years faster than a NATO members’ agreement to move toward 2 percent spending on defense, an agreement that took place during the presidency of Barack Obama. Trump’s pressure, however, might have spurred some countries to increase their spending faster than they planned or to become more serious about moving toward the 2 percent goal.

Trump praised Slovakia’s efforts to boost defense spending, citing a contract in December to buy 14 F-16 military jets from Lockheed Martin as it seeks to replace Soviet-era jets.

“It’s a very big order, actually,” Trump said. “I’m very impressed.”

Pellegrini congratulated Trump on the latest U.S. jobs report and boasted that his country is experiencing the lowest unemployment rate in its history.

The April jobs report released Friday showed that the U.S. unemployment rate fell to a five-decade low of 3.6% from 3.8%, though that drop reflected a rise in the number of people who stopped looking for work. The report also showed employers added 263,000 jobs.

“Our economy is raging,” said Trump, who concluded his comments to reporters by saying he would be running on the economy in the 2020 election.

The White House said after the meeting that Trump and Pellegrini also discussed the need to diversify Europe’s energy sources. The U.S. has been pushing European nations to buy its liquefied natural gas and reduce energy dependence on Russia.

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The White House said Trump also cited the need for fair and reciprocal trade between the United States and the European Union.

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Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.

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