Trump and Macron smooth row over ‘insulting’ defence proposal

Leaders of US and France seek to defuse tension before first World War anniversary

French president Emmanuel Macron and US president Donald Trump agreed on Saturday on the need for Europe to bear more of the burden for defence, papering over an earlier Trump tweet that described Mr Macron's call for a European army as "very insulting".

Meeting for talks at the Elysee ahead of commemorations to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the first World War, Mr Macron welcomed Mr Trump with a firm handshake, but there appeared to be less immediate warmth between them than in the past.

Seated on gilded chairs, Mr Macron placed his hand on Mr Trump’s knee and referred to him as “my friend”, while Mr Trump too sought to find common ground on an issue that has caused friction.

"We want a strong Europe, it's very important to us, and whichever way we can do it the best and more efficient would be something we both want," said Mr Trump. "We want to help Europe but it has to be fair. Right now the burden sharing has been largely on the United States. "


Defence costs

Mr Macron echoed those sentiments, saying he wanted Europe to bear a greater share of the defence costs within NATO, a point he has made repeatedly since taking office, alongside calls for Europe to develop its own military capability.

“That’s why I do believe my proposals for European defence are totally consistent with that,” Mr Macron said in English.

Fresh off US congressional elections that saw his Republican Party’s power eroded, Mr Trump is in Paris to bolster the US-European alliance during the Armistice commemorations.

But in a tweet prior to landing in Paris on Friday, Mr Trump took a dim view of comments Mr Macron made in a Europe 1 radio interview this week.

Discussing the threat from cyber-hacking and outside meddling in the electoral process, Mr Macron said Europe needed to protect itself against China, Russia "and even the United States".

Later in the interview he spoke about the need for a European army, saying:

“Faced by Russia, which is on our borders and which has shown that it can be threatening . . . we need to have a Europe that can better defend itself by itself, without depending solely on the United States.”

Mr Trump, who has pushed Nato allies to pay more for their common defense and not rely so heavily on the United States, complained.

“Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of Nato, which the US subsidizes greatly,” Mr Trump said on Twitter.

Mr Trump and Mr Macron are set to hold around an hour of bilateral talks before they are joined by their wives, Melania and Brigitte, for lunch at the Elysee Palace. It is the second time the four have dined together in Paris.

Solemn commemoration

During the weekend, Mr Trump is scheduled to make pilgrimages to two American cemeteries, Belleau Wood east of Paris on Saturday and Suresnes on the western outskirts of the capital on Sunday, where he will make formal remarks.

His trip comes just days after congressional elections delivered results that will complicate his next two years. While Republicans slightly expanded their majority in the US Senate, they lost control of the US House of Representatives to Democrats who may use their newfound power to launch investigations into Mr Trump and stymie his agenda.

As well as defence, Mr Macron said he and Mr Trump would discuss trade, Iran and the conflicts in Syria and Yemen. Talks may also cover European concerns about Mr Trump's plans to withdraw the United States from the 1980s Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Agreement and US renewal of sanctions against Iran.

Mr Macron told Europe 1 radio that the “main victim” of the US withdrawal from the INF accord was Europe and its security.

The French president, who tried but failed earlier this year to talk Mr Trump out of withdrawing from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, has also voiced worries about the impact of sanctions on European companies doing business with Iran.

Mr Trump may also chat briefly with Russian president Vladimir Putin on Sunday when both are among some 70 world leaders gathered at the Arc de Triomphe to mark the end of the Great War 100 years ago. Mr Trump and Mr Putin are expected to have formal talks later this month when both attend a G-20 summit in Buenos Aires.

Mr Trump, who has pursued “America First” policies since taking over the presidency in January 2017, declared himself a “nationalist” during the run-up to the congressional elections, a term likely to raise concerns in Europe.

"I'm not a globalist, but I want to take care of the globe, but first I have to take care of our country," he told Fox News Channel's The Ingraham Angle last week. "I want to help people around the world, but we have to take care of our country, or we won't have a country." – Reuters