Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, discussed his views on foreign policy in Cleveland on Wednesday with David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times during the Republican National Convention. The following is an edited transcript of their interview.

SANGER: So what we want to do is pick up where we left off in March. We were listening to Speaker Ryan last night, and he presented a much more traditional Republican, engaged internationalist view of the world. One in which he said that the United States would never lead from behind. In our conversation a few months ago, you were discussing pulling back from commitments we can no longer afford unless others pay for them. You were discussing a set of alliances that you were happy to participate in.

TRUMP: And I think, by the way, David, I think they will be able to afford them.

SANGER: They may be.

TRUMP: We can’t.

SANGER: But I guess the question is, If we can’t, do you think that your presidency, let’s assume for a moment that they contribute what they are contributing today, or what they have contributed historically, your presidency would be one of pulling back and saying, “You know, we’re not going to invest in these alliances with NATO, we are not going to invest as much as we have in Asia since the end of the Korean War because we can’t afford it and it’s really not in our interest to do so.”

TRUMP: If we cannot be properly reimbursed for the tremendous cost of our military protecting other countries, and in many cases the countries I’m talking about are extremely rich.

Then if we cannot make a deal, which I believe we will be able to, and which I would prefer being able to, but if we cannot make a deal, I would like you to say, I would prefer being able to, some people, the one thing they took out of your last story, you know, some people, the fools and the haters, they said, “Oh, Trump doesn’t want to protect you.”

I would prefer that we be able to continue, but if we are not going to be reasonably reimbursed for the tremendous cost of protecting these massive nations with tremendous wealth — you have the tape going on?

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David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times.|By The New York Times

SANGER: We do.

HABERMAN: We both do.

TRUMP: With massive wealth. Massive wealth. We’re talking about countries that are doing very well. Then yes, I would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, “Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.”

SANGER: That suggests that our forward deployments around the world are based on their interests — they’re not really based on our interests.

And yet I think many in your party would say that the reason that we have troops in Europe, the reason that we keep 60,000 troops in Asia, is that it’s in our interest to keep open trading lines, it’s in our interest to keep the North Koreans in check, you do that much better out away from the United States.

TRUMP: I think it’s a mutual interest, but we’re being reimbursed like it’s only in our interest. I think it’s a mutual interest. …

SANGER: We were talking about alliances, and the fundamental problem that you hear many Republicans, traditional Republicans, have with the statement that you’ve made is that it would seem to them that you would believe that the interests of the United States being out with both our troops and our diplomacy abroad is less than our economic interests in having somebody else support that.

In other words, even if they didn’t pay a cent toward it, many have believed that the way we’ve kept our postwar leadership since World War II has been our ability to project power around the world. That’s why we got this many diplomats ——

TRUMP: How is it helping us? How has it helped us? We have massive trade deficits.

I could see that, if instead of having a trade deficit worldwide of $800 billion, we had a trade positive of $100 billion, $200 billion, $800 billion. So how has it helped us?

SANGER: Well, keeping the peace. We didn’t have a presence in places like Korea in 1950, or not as great a presence, and you saw what happened.

TRUMP: There’s no guarantee that we’ll have peace in Korea.

SANGER: Even with our troops, no, there’s no guarantee.

TRUMP: No, there’s no guarantee. We have 28,000 soldiers on the line.

SANGER: But we’ve had them there since 1953 and ——

TRUMP: Sure, but that doesn’t mean that there wouldn’t be something going on right now. Maybe you would have had a unified Korea. Who knows what would have happened?

In the meantime, what have we done? So we’ve kept peace, but in the meantime we’ve let North Korea get stronger and stronger and more nuclear and more nuclear, and you are really saying, “Well, how is that a good thing?” You understand?

North Korea now is almost like a boiler. You say we’ve had peace, but that part of Korea, North Korea, is getting more and more crazy. And more and more nuclear. And they are testing missiles all the time.

SANGER: They are.

TRUMP: And we’ve got our soldiers sitting there watching missiles go up. And you say to yourself, “Oh, that’s interesting.” Now we’re protecting Japan because Japan is a natural location for North Korea. So we are protecting them, and you say to yourself, “Well, what are we getting out of this?”

SANGER: Well, we keep our missile defenses out there. And those missile defenses help prevent the day when North Korea can reach the United States with one of its missiles. It’s a lot easier to shoot down from there ——

TRUMP: We’ve had them there for a long time, and now they’re practically obsolete, in all fairness.

SANGER: Relatively new missile defenses would allow us ——

TRUMP: I’m only saying this. We’re spending money, and if you’re talking about trade, we’re losing a tremendous amount of money, according to many stats, $800 billion a year on trade.

So we are spending a fortune on military in order to lose $800 billion. That doesn’t sound like it’s smart to me.

Just so you understand though, totally on the record, this is not 40 years ago. We are not the same country and the world is not the same world.

Our country owes right now $19 trillion, going to $21 trillion very quickly because of the omnibus budget that was passed, which is incredible.

We don’t have the luxury of doing what we used to do; we don’t have the luxury, and it is a luxury. We need other people to reimburse us much more substantially than they are giving right now because we are only paying for a fraction of the cost.

SANGER: Or to take on the burden themselves.

TRUMP: Or, if we cannot make the right deal, to take on the burden themselves. You said it wrong because you said or — or if we cannot make the right deal for proper reimbursement to take on the burden themselves. Yes. Now, Hillary Clinton said: “I will never leave Japan. I will never leave Japan. Will never leave any of our ——” Well now, once you say that, guess what happens? What happens?

HABERMAN: You’re stuck.

TRUMP: You can’t negotiate.


TRUMP: In a deal, you always have to be prepared to walk. Hillary Clinton has said, “We will never, ever walk.” That’s a wonderful phrase, but unfortunately, if I were on Saudi Arabia’s side, Germany, Japan, South Korea and others, I would say, “Oh, they’re never leaving, so what do we have to pay them for?” Does that make sense to you, David?

SANGER: It does, but we also know that defending the United States is a harder thing to do if you’re not forward-deployed.

TRUMP: By the way, and I know what I’m talking about is massive. If we ever felt there was a reason to defend the United States, we can always deploy, and it would be a lot less expense. …

HABERMAN: Can we switch to current events, recent events?

TRUMP: You understand what ——

SANGER: I do, I do.

TRUMP: You always have to be prepared to walk. It doesn’t mean I want to walk. And I would prefer not to walk. You have to be prepared and our country cannot afford to do what we’re doing.

HABERMAN: How closely did you watch last week as events were unfolding in Turkey with the coup? Is there anything you would have done differently in how it was handled?

TRUMP: The coup never took place — the coup was not successful, and based on the fact, and I give great credit to him for being able to turn that around.

SANGER: Erdogan?

TRUMP: Yes, some people say that it was staged. You know that?

SANGER: We’ve heard.

TRUMP: I don’t think so, but I do give great credit to him for turning it around.

You know, the first hour, it seemed like it was over. Then all of a sudden, and the amazing thing is the one that won that was the people. They came out on the streets, and the army types didn’t want to drive over them like they did in Tiananmen Square when they sort of drived them over, and that was the end of that. Right?

People said, I’m not going to drive over people. The people came out of their homes, and they were not in favor of what the military was doing. So that was quite impressive from the standpoint of existing government. I will say this: I think Turkey can do a lot against ISIS, and I would hope that if I’m dealing with them, they will do much more about ISIS.

SANGER: Erdogan put nearly 50,000 people in jail or suspend them, suspended thousands of teachers, he imprisoned many in the military and the police, he dismissed a lot of the judiciary. Does this worry you?

And would you rather deal with a strongman who’s also been a strong ally, or with somebody that’s got a greater appreciation of civil liberties than Mr. Erdogan has? Would you press him to make sure the rule of law applies?

TRUMP: I think right now when it comes to civil liberties, our country has a lot of problems, and I think it’s very hard for us to get involved in other countries when we don’t know what we are doing and we can’t see straight in our own country.

We have tremendous problems when you have policemen being shot in the streets, when you have riots, when you have Ferguson. When you have Baltimore. When you have all of the things that are happening in this country — we have other problems, and I think we have to focus on those problems.

When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger.

SANGER: So that suggests that you would not, as, say, President Bush did, the last President Bush, make the spread of democracy and liberty sort of a core of your foreign policy. You would say, “We need allies, we’re not going to lecture them about what they do inside their borders.”

TRUMP: We need allies.

SANGER: And lecture inside their borders?

TRUMP: I don’t know that we have a right to lecture. Just look about what’s happening with our country. How are we going to lecture when people are shooting our policemen in cold blood.

How are we going to lecture when you see the riots and the horror going on in our own country.

We have so many difficulties in our country right now that I don’t think we should be, and there may be a time when we can get much more aggressive on that subject, and it will be a wonderful thing to be more aggressive. We’re not in a position to be more aggressive. We have to fix our own mess.

SANGER: You said that they could be much more helpful with ISIS. I’m sure perhaps they can. The big difference they’ve had is that we’ve been supporting Kurdish forces that have been very effective ——

TRUMP: I’m a fan of the Kurds, you understand.

SANGER: But Erdogan is not. Tell us how you would deal with that?

TRUMP: Well, it would be ideal if we could get them all together. And that would be a possibility. But I’m a big fan of the Kurdish forces. At the same time, I think we have a potentially — we could have a potentially very successful relationship with Turkey. And it would be really wonderful if we could put them somehow both together.

SANGER: And what’s your diplomatic plan for doing that?

TRUMP: Meetings. If I ever have the opportunity to do it, meaning if I win, we will have meetings, we will have meetings very early on.

HABERMAN: I was going to say, when would you begin that process?

TRUMP: Very early on. I think it’s a natural. I think it’s a natural. I mean, we have two groups that are friendly and they are fighting each other. So if we could put them together, that would be something that would be possible to do, in my opinion.

HABERMAN: You had meetings in the last couple months with James Baker and Henry Kissinger. Did they in any way change your views?


HABERMAN: And what did you come away with from those meetings?

TRUMP: No. I came away with a lot of knowledge. I respect both men. …

SANGER: Tell us how you’d capitalize on that. On the record, tell us how, in the case with Mexico.

TRUMP: I think we’ll have a very good relationship with Mexico, and it will be a fair relationship. Right now, it’s a massive, Mexico is a massive loss. A massive loss for us.

But I think it will be a very, very fair relationship and a very good relationship but right now, Mexico, we are losing on the border and we are losing on trade. We have billions of dollars of trade deficits with Mexico. Drugs are pouring in across the border. And they are beating us both on the border and with trade. I think we’ll have a better relationship than we do now and it will be a much more fair relationship.

SANGER: You’ve talked about building the wall of course. Would you amend or change Nafta?

TRUMP: Oh, without question.

SANGER: Tell us how.

TRUMP: Without question. Nafta ——

SANGER: Would you pull out of Nafta?

TRUMP: If I don’t get a change, I would pull out of Nafta in a split second. Nafta is signed by Bill Clinton, perhaps the worst trade deal ever signed in the history of this country.

It’s the worst trade deal ever signed in the history of this country and one of the worst trade deals ever signed anywhere in the world. Nafta is a disaster. You have to understand, I just campaigned, as you probably read, and I won all these states, and one of the reasons was because of Nafta.

Because Nafta has drained manufacturing out of New York State, out of Pennsylvania, out of Ohio, out of so many different places. It’s drained.

And these companies have gone to Mexico, and they’ve gone, they’ve left with the jobs. David, I have statisticians, and I know, like if I went to Pennsylvania, I say, “Give me the statistics on what is going on with respect to manufacturing.” Numbers — 45, 55, 65, I have states that are so bad. New England.

Look at New England, what happened. Nafta has been a disaster for this country. And a disaster for the worker and Nafta is one of the reasons that, you know, there are people that haven’t had a wage increase 18 years in real wages.

Actually, they’re lower, some are working two jobs, working much harder, then making less and they’re older. It’s supposed to work the opposite. You’re making more, you’re making more I hope.

HABERMAN: What kind of change could you make in terms of Nafta without fully withdrawing from it? How could you?

TRUMP: You’ve got to be fair to the country. Everyone is leaving. Carrier just announced they’re leaving. Ford is building a massive plant. So I have a friend who builds plants and then I have to go. I have a friend who builds plants, that’s what he does, he’s the biggest in the world, he builds plants like automobile plants, computer plants, that’s all he does.

He doesn’t build apartments, he doesn’t build office space, he builds plants. I said to him the other day, “How are you doing?” He goes, “Unbelievable.” Oh, great, that’s good, thinking about the United States, right, because he’s based in the United States. So I said, “Good, so the country is doing well.” He said, “No, no, not our country, you’ve got to see what I’m doing in Mexico.” He said: “The business there is unbelievable, the new plants we are building. People moving from the United States.” That’s what he does. One-story plants. You understand?

SANGER: Since your time is limited, let me ask you about Russia. You’ve been very complimentary of Putin himself.

TRUMP: No! No, I haven’t.

SANGER: You said you respected his strength.

TRUMP: He’s been complimentary of me. I think Putin and I will get along very well.

SANGER: So I was just in ——

TRUMP: But he’s been complimentary of me.

SANGER: I was just in the Baltic States. They are very concerned obviously about this new Russian activism, they are seeing submarines off their coasts, they are seeing airplanes they haven’t seen since the Cold War coming, bombers doing test runs.

If Russia came over the border into Estonia or Latvia, Lithuania, places that Americans don’t think about all that often, would you come to their immediate military aid?

TRUMP: I don’t want to tell you what I’d do because I don’t want Putin to know what I’d do. I have a serious chance of becoming president and I’m not like Obama, that every time they send some troops into Iraq or anyplace else, he has a news conference to announce it.

SANGER: They are NATO members, and we are treaty-obligated ——

TRUMP: We have many NATO members that aren’t paying their bills.

SANGER: That’s true, but we are treaty-obligated under NATO, forget the bills part.

TRUMP: You can’t forget the bills. They have an obligation to make payments. Many NATO nations are not making payments, are not making what they’re supposed to make. That’s a big thing. You can’t say forget that.

SANGER: My point here is, Can the members of NATO, including the new members in the Baltics, count on the United States to come to their military aid if they were attacked by Russia? And count on us fulfilling our obligations ——

TRUMP: Have they fulfilled their obligations to us? If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.

HABERMAN: And if not?

TRUMP: Well, I’m not saying if not. I’m saying, right now there are many countries that have not fulfilled their obligations to us.

SANGER: You’ve seen several of those countries come under cyberattack, things that are short of war, clearly appear to be coming from Russia.

TRUMP: Well, we’re under cyberattack.

SANGER: We’re under regular cyberattack. Would you use cyberweapons before you used military force?

TRUMP: Cyber is absolutely a thing of the future and the present. Look, we’re under cyberattack, forget about them. And we don’t even know where it’s coming from.

SANGER: Some days we do, and some days we don’t.

TRUMP: Because we’re obsolete. Right now, Russia and China in particular and other places.

SANGER: Would you support the United States’ not only developing as we are but fielding cyberweapons as an alternative?

TRUMP: Yes. I am a fan of the future, and cyber is the future.

SANGER: President Obama, as you probably know, as you probably read, is considering a no-first-use pledge before he leaves office for nuclear weapons. We don’t have one right now. Some other nations do, some don’t. Would you consider that stabilizing?

TRUMP: Depends on who we are talking about, it depends on who we are talking about. I would only make that commitment as the agreement is being signed. I wouldn’t want to play my cards. I don’t want to say that.

SANGER: This would be a declaratory policy of the United States.

TRUMP: I understand. I will do everything within my power never to be in a position where we have to use nuclear power because that’s a whole different ballgame. That’s very important to me. I will do everything in my power never to be in a position where we will have to use nuclear power. It’s very important to me.

SANGER: President Obama, as you know, has talked about reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the American arsenal and hopefully getting to the point, maybe not in our lifetimes, of no nuclear weapons. Do you believe at this point that we have sufficient forces that we could come down unilaterally?

TRUMP: I only like that premise if nobody else has them. But that’s never going to happen.

SANGER: Do you think we have too many weapons than we actually need to defend the United States?

TRUMP: I think we have a lot of obsolete weapons.

SANGER: We certainly do.

TRUMP: We have nuclear that we don’t even know if it works. We have nuclear where the telephone systems are 40 years old and they have wire that’s so corroded that they can’t call from one station to the next.

SANGER: That’s right.

TRUMP: We have nuclear that their silos are rusted so badly that they don’t even know if the rockets are going to pour out.

SANGER: Well that raises the question whether we need that part of the triad?

TRUMP: Yes. Yes, I think you need all three parts, but — but we have, much of what we have is obsolete. Now, Russia, if you look at what they’re doing, they’re building submarines, they’re going to a level. …

SANGER: You’ve been a little bit vague about what we’d do with ISIS other than bomb the hell out of them.

TRUMP: I don’t want to be specific because I don’t want ISIS to know what I’m planning. I do have ideas, very strong ideas on ISIS.

SANGER: Do any of them involve diplomacy, as opposed to — in other words, diplomacy in terms of getting Russia and others to help cut them off?

TRUMP: Oh, I would love to have a good relationship where Russia and I, instead of, and us, and the U.S., instead of fighting each other we got along. It would be wonderful if we had good relationships with Russia so that we don’t have to go through all of the drama.

SANGER: You would keep Assad there if he’s also fighting ISIS?

TRUMP: I don’t want to say that, I have a very specific view on Assad, but I think we have to get rid of ISIS before we get rid of Assad.

SANGER: So you agree with President Obama in that regard?

TRUMP: Look, Assad hates ISIS; ISIS hates Assad. They are fighting each other. We are supposed to go and fight them both? How do you fight them both when they are fighting each other? And I think that ISIS is a threat that’s much more important for us right now than Assad. You understand what I’m saying?


TRUMP: Because Assad and ISIS are fighting. Now we are going to go in and fight them both, because we have people that don’t know what they are doing. We have people that don’t know what they are doing. So I would get rid of ISIS, but I don’t want to fight at the same time.

The other thing you have is, is Assad is backed by a country that we made a power, O.K.? Iran. And Russia, O.K.? So why didn’t we do something about that before we made Iran rich, and before we gave them this tremendous power that they now have, that they didn’t have and shouldn’t have had?

SANGER: We haven’t given them very much right now.

TRUMP: Well, you’ve given them $150 billion.

SANGER: They’ve gotten a few billion. At this point, they’ve gotten a few billion.

TRUMP: They’re getting a lot of money. And they have an agreement that’s a terrible agreement in my opinion. It’s an agreement that will get them to nuclear quicker than had we had no agreement.

But that’s a different question. You asked me about Assad. So Assad is a bad man. Done horrible things. We have to get ISIS first, and you don’t want to fight them both at the same time when they are fighting each other. So I hope you treat me fairly. And I hope you say that I do know my subject. And I do know it. I know it better than, I know it better than the people that do it for ——

HABERMAN: We’re going to run a transcript — Let me ask you one quick question because I can’t not ask. Do you have anything more you want to say about either Meredith McIver or what happened this week?

TRUMP: No, it’s fine. I wanted to protect her. She’s been a person that’s been very good ——

HABERMAN: Protect Meredith?

TRUMP: Absolutely. But it was getting to a point where it didn’t make sense. Look at your story today. Give me a break. We are talking about ISIS. We are talking about Iran and Iraq and we are walking about and you put, the biggest story is about, the No. 1 story in The New York Times today is about this?

She was terrific. She’s a terrific woman, she’s been with us a long time and she just made the mistake. You saw her letter?


TRUMP: And she came and she said, “Mr. Trump, I’d like to say what happened.” I thought it was such a nice thing.

HABERMAN: When did she come to you yesterday?

TRUMP: Two days ago?

HABERMAN: She did?

TRUMP: Yeah.

HABERMAN: Right away? O.K.

TRUMP: Who knew this was going to be a big story? What I’m saying is, she came in after the speech. But she was, I thought that was very nice.

HABERMAN: And she offered and you said no?

TRUMP: Well, originally, but I didn’t know it was going to be a big story. She was more interested in, because Melania did a phenomenal job ——

HABERMAN: Her speech was very well received.

TRUMP: Very well received. And she was more interested in getting that straight, because she thought it was very unfair to Melania, who did a phenomenal job. And I’m glad, it was very nice that she did it. She offered her resignation. I said, “I really appreciate what you did.” I think it’s terrific that she came forward instead of me going to her and I said, “I won’t accept it,” and she was thrilled with that. She was happy with it.

HABERMAN: Is there anything you would do differently going forward with how speeches are handled?

TRUMP: Look, Obama copied a speech from Massachusetts. Joe Biden is famous for copying speeches. Obama had another one with Bush, I read it I think in your paper.

I’ve been reading about this stuff all my life. It happens, it can happen. In this case, it happened. You know the story. By the way, the letter cleared up everything, cleared up everything. The only thing is, if I had done it a day earlier it would have been better.

HABERMAN: It would have ended it ——

TRUMP: A day earlier, in retrospect. But I didn’t clear it up and people are giving, I think, everybody a lot of credit right now.

HABERMAN: What do you think people will take away from this convention? What are you hoping?

TRUMP: From the convention? The fact that I’m very well liked. Look, I got more votes than anybody in the history of the Republican Party. Almost 14 million votes. I got 37 states. Kasich has one.

As an example, Ted had, you know, not many. Thirty-seven states. Now, with the roll call, I had 44 states. It was 44 to seven and the seven was everybody else: 44 to seven. It was 44 to six because we are including the different islands. And when you are in that hall and you see those people, like yesterday, my daughter called up, she said, “Dad, I’ve never seen it — it’s total love.”

HABERMAN: Which daughter?

TRUMP: I don’t get love from the media. Instead of reporting like it is. But I think that people are starting to see what’s going on, because I really believe there’s a movement going on and it’s a movement based on common sense, it’s a movement based on law and order, it’s a movement based on compassion, based on a lot of different things. Based on trade.

SANGER: This is an America First day you are having out there.

TRUMP: Yeah.

SANGER: We talked about that a little bit at the last conversation. Does America First take on a different meaning for you now? Think about its historical roots.

TRUMP: To me, America First is a brand-new modern term. I never related it to the past.

SANGER: So it’s not what Lindbergh had in mind?

TRUMP: It’s just, no. In fact when I said America First, people said, “Oh, wait a minute, isn’t that a historical term?” And when they told me, I said: “Look, it’s America First. This is not ——”

SANGER: You were familiar with the history of the phrase.

TRUMP: I was familiar, but it wasn’t used for that reason. It was used as a brand-new, very modern term.

HABERMAN: What does it mean to you?

TRUMP: Meaning we are going to take care of this country first before we worry about everybody else in the world.

Note: If Trump can deliver on what he said regarding the Middle-East, he is a far better choice than Hillary who already has a set mind of hating all Arabs and people in this region.