Macron moves to smoothe over tensions with Trump on European defence

File photo: France's President Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with US President Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters
French President Emmanuel Macron moved to smooth over ruffled relations with Donald Trump after the US president took offense at his proposal Europe create its own continental military force.

Macron received Trump at the Elysee Palace on a wet Saturday morning in Paris ahead of a weekend of commemorations with world leaders to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

But while both leaders flashed thumbs up signs as they met, their first task was to deal with a public spat. In a radio interview this week, Macron said that a “strong and sovereign Europe” was needed to defend the continent’s interests against China, Russia and “even the US” As Trump’s plane landed Friday evening, he sent a tweet calling Macron’s proposal “very insulting.”

Macron moved quickly to defuse the discord, saying he agrees that Europe needs to do more to defend itself and that his efforts to create more common European Union defense initiatives were moves in that direction.

“Our defense cooperation is very important,” Macron said at the start of the meeting, giving Trump another of his trademark persistent handshakes. “I do share President Trump’s view we need much better burden sharing within NATO. And that’s why I do believe my proposal for European defense are really consistent with that.”

“I appreciate what you are saying about burden sharing. We know what my attitude has been, and we want a strong Europe -- very important to us to have a strong Europe,” Trump said. “Whichever way we can do it the best and most efficient will be something that we both want.”

Trump has demanded that NATO countries spend more on their own defence and questioned whether the US should remain in the alliance. Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have both publicly questioned whether Europe can depend on the US to come to its aid in the event of war.

According to a French official who briefed reporters, the two presidents emerged from their hour-long meeting aligned on security matters after Macron explained his proposals.

The French president also raised Trump’s plan to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which the US says Russia has violated. Europe is the “main victim” of Trump’s decision, Macron said in remarks made as he toured World War I battlefields ahead of the centenary of the Nov. 11 armistice, according to the Wall Street Journal. He told Trump that the Europeans should have been consulted, the official said.

Macron’s comments on stronger European defense cooperation were not intended to add to the points of contention, and his stance is not new. The French official suggested that Trump had conflated two separate issues, that of the US withdrawal from the INF treaty and the resulting threat to European security, and the need to create an autonomous military force in Europe. Macron never meant that Europe had to protect itself from the US, the official said.

Trump and Macron also have extensive differences over trade and US sanctions on Iran, but made little progress in reconciling their views at the Elysee.

In addition to his meetings with Macron, Trump had been scheduled to visit the Belleau Wood battlefield and American cemetery on Saturday, but the trip was canceled as the rain prevented the planned helicopter excursion. He is due to speak at a Veterans Day ceremony Sunday at the Suresnes American Cemetery.

Putin, Erdogan

While in Paris, Trump will see Russian leader Vladimir Putin for the first time since their summit earlier this year in Helsinki, though White House officials downplayed the encounter, saying Trump doesn’t plan extensive talks with Putin over a weekend that mostly will be devoted to ceremonies. The pair are expected to meet during the G-20 summit later this month in Argentina, and the White House has invited Putin to visit Washington.

Other possible encounters to watch include Trump’s interaction with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, amid badly strained ties over security and economic issues, as well as over Iran sanctions.

The Trump administration reimposed sanctions on Iran over international opposition, blacklisting hundreds of Iranian firms and individuals. The sanctions stem from Trump’s efforts to exit or renegotiate an international deal struck during President Barack Obama’s administration offering economic relief in exchange for a freeze of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

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