President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron have sought to ease tensions over comments by both leaders that threatened to cast a shadow over a weekend marking 100 years since the end of World War One.
The American and French leaders, who have had somewhat of an up-and-down relationship, worked to project unity of opinion over whether Europe should create an army of its own. Their meeting got off to a testy start. President Trump unleashed an angry Twitter jab at his French host as he arrived in France late on Friday.
He 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 subsidises greatly!”
President Macron’s office said President Trump misunderstood the comments. The leaders met at the Elysee Palace and, asked about the tweet, President Trump said President Macron “understands that the United States can only do so much”, adding that the US wants to help. President Trump added that he and President Macron are “getting along from the standpoint of fairness”.
President 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.”
An official in President Macron’s office said President Trump lumped together two different comments by the French president, and that the comments would be on the table for Saturday’s meeting. President 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, President Macron reiterated that Europe needs to build up its own military because it can no longer depend on the US for defence. President Trump has made similar arguments, particularly in urging Nato’s European members to increase its share of defence spending.
President Macron greeted President Trump with a handshake and pats on the arm as the American president arrived at the Elysee Palace in a cool drizzle.
Both leaders flashed a thumbs-up to waiting reporters, but ignored their shouted questions about President Macron’s remarks and President Trump’s reaction. In comment before the leaders went behind closed doors for talks, President Macron referred to President Trump as “my good friend” and appeared to tap him on the thigh.
The comments by Trump were a fresh sign that the “America first” president was ready to chart his own course yet again as world leaders gathered to remember the coalition that brought an end to the first global war in which millions were killed.
President Trump will join scores of other world leaders on Sunday for a ceremony in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe to mark the WWI centennial.