French President Emmanuel Macron offered pomp and warm words to President Trump in Paris on Saturday but did not back down from comments he made this week that Trump called “very insulting.”
Macron is one of Trump’s closest friends on the world stage, but the rapport between the two leaders has declined in recent months and appeared a bit frosty at times Saturday as they sat in a gilded room in the Elysée Palace to begin meetings and the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
Macron set off the friction before Trump’s arrival by telling Europe 1 radio that the European Union needs a “real army” so that it could rely less on the United States. He also criticized Trump’s recent pledge to withdraw from the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty with Russia.
The INF treaty was a major arms control pact from 1987 that saw the two sides eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons and destroy nearly 2,700 ballistic and cruise missiles. The U.S. has accused Russia of violating the treaty in recent years, a charge Moscow denies.
The French president said separately in the interview that, when it comes to cybersecurity, France needed to “protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America.”
Trump, perhaps melding the statements together, shot back on Twitter shortly before he landed in Paris on Friday night.
“President Macron of France has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the U.S., China and Russia,” Trump tweeted. “Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly!”
When Trump and Macron were asked about the comment during a brief session with reporters, both emphasized the warm cooperation between the two countries and the need for NATO members to spend more on their own defense.
Macron made clear that he would continue to push his continental allies to spend more on a joint military, casting the proposal as a way to relieve the United States of the responsibility it assumed after World War II to help protect Europe from then-Soviet aggression.
“It’s unfair to have the European security today being assured just by the United States, and we need a much better burden sharing,” Macron said. “That’s why I do believe that we need more European capacities, more European defense, in order to take this part of the burden.
“When President Trump has to protect or to defend one of the states of the United States, he doesn’t ask France or Germany, or another government of Europe to finance it,” he added. “That’s why I do believe that we need more investment.”
The European Union has already stepped up spending and planning for more military cooperation within the continent.
Trump avoided discussing a joint European Union force, focusing instead on his persistent demand that European countries spend more on their own defense to help meet their commitments under the NATO military alliance.
“We’re getting along from the standpoint of fairness, and I want it to be fair,” he said.
The two men said they would discuss a range of issues during their meeting, including conflicts in Syria and Yemen, Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, tariffs, climate change and counterterrorism.
Trump was wowed last year by an elaborate Bastille Day military parade in Paris. He tried to stage a similar one back in Washington, but backed down over excessive costs.
The primary purpose of his second visit is ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, which took place at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.
Elaborate events are planned Sunday at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe but do not include a parade.
The White House said Trump and First Lady Melania Trump canceled plans to attend a ceremony at the Ainse-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial due to scheduling and logistical difficulties caused by rainy weather.
Trump’s chief of staff, former Marine Gen. John Kelly, and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attended on their behalf.
The cancellation left Trump with no public events Saturday afternoon and spurred criticism that he had no fallback plan other than a dinner for visiting heads of state that Macron was hosting. Other leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, held public events Saturday to honor veterans’ sacrifice.
“I helped plan all of President Obama’s trips for 8 years. There is always a rain option. Always,” tweeted Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security advisor.
White House officials had said previously that Trump would meet with U.S. Embassy employees on Saturday. It’s not clear if he did so, but those meetings often are held in private.
Trump is scheduled to visit another cemetery Sunday for a Veterans Day ceremony.
Trump also is scheduled to attend a luncheon Sunday with up to 60 heads of state, including Russian President Vladimir Putin. The White House has said Trump has no plans to meet with Putin beyond a greeting.