President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron insisted they were good friends on Saturday after a dustup over their comments about European security that threatened to divert attention from a weekend ceremony marking 100 years since the end of World War I.
The American and French leaders, who have had somewhat of an up-and-down relationship, worked to project unity on whether Europe should create an army as they addressed reporters before going behind closed doors for talks at the Elysee Palace.
Trump opened his latest French visit on a testy note after he unleashed an angry Twitter jab at his host as he arrived for the celebration. Just as Air Force One touched down in Paris on Friday night, Trump tweeted that Macron “has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the US, China and Russia. Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the US subsidizes greatly!”
Macron’s office said Trump misunderstood Macron’s comments about sharing the defence burden, and the two men struck a more friendly tone as they opened their meeting at the grand presidential residence on a rainy day in Paris.
“We want to help Europe but it has to be fair. Right now, the burden-sharing has been largely on the United States,” Trump said, adding that Macron “understands that and he understands the United States can only do so much, in fairness to the United States.”
Trump added that the US wants to “absolutely be there” to help defend Europe but that “different countries have to also help”.
Macron defended his viewpoint, saying “I do share President Trump’s views that we need a much better burden sharing with NATO and that’s why I do believe that my proposal for a European defence” is “utterly consistent with that”.
Macron said it’s “unfair to have the European security today being assured just by the United States”.
An official in Macron’s office said Trump lumped together two different comments by the French president, and that the leaders would discuss the comments. By custom, the official was not authorised to be publicly named.
Macron said in an interview earlier this week that Europe needs to protect itself against “China, Russia and even the United States” in terms of cyberspace. Later, Macron reiterated that Europe needs to build up its own military because it can no longer depend on the US for defence.
Trump has made similar arguments, particularly in urging NATO members to increase their defence spending.
Trump’s tweet aside, Macron welcomed Trump in the courtyard of the Elysee Palace with a handshake and pats on the arm. Standing in a cool drizzle, the leaders flashed thumbs-up signs to reporters but ignored their shouted questions about Macron’s remarks.
Inside a gilded meeting room, Macron referred to Trump as “my good friend” and tapped him on the thigh. Trump said they had become “very good friends over the last couple of years” and were “similar in our views” on many issues.
Besides European security, the presidents also discussed the US decision to pull out of an arms control treaty with Russia, Iran, the slaying of a Saudi journalist inside the Saudi Consulate in Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s role in the war in Yemen, according to French officials who briefed journalists afterward. The White House offered no comment on what the leaders discussed.
The tweet by Trump marked a fresh sign that the “America first” president was ready to go his own way yet again as world leaders gather to remember the coalition that brought an end to the first global war in which millions were killed.
Trump was joining scores of other world leaders for a Sunday ceremony in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe to mark the WWI centennial.
The weekend visit comes on the heels of midterm elections in which Americans delivered a split referendum on his presidency, keeping the Senate in his Republican Party’s control but giving control of the House to opposition Democrats.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump, who joined him at the palace later on Saturday for a social lunch with Macron and his wife, Brigitte, had planned to visit the American cemetery in Belleau, France, to pay respects to US soldiers who died on French soil. But the White House scrapped the visit because of rain. Trump is scheduled to visit a different American cemetery in France on Sunday.