PARIS — President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron tried to project unity Saturday after Trump had lashed out at one of America’s strongest allies in Europe, claiming Macron insulted the United States when he pushed the idea of the continent having its own defense force.
The American and French leaders, who have had an up-and-down relationship, told reporters they were good friends before going behind closed doors for talks at the Elysee Palace. It was Trump’s first stop on a weekend trip to Paris where dozens of world leaders were gathering to commemorate Sunday’s 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
Trump also had been scheduled to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery at Belleau Wood on Saturday, but canceled because of rainy weather that grounded the presidential helicopter. The president was criticized for not finding a way to get to the cemetery, which is about a two-hour drive east of Paris, where Americans killed in World War I are buried. The White House sent a delegation that included chief of staff John Kelly in his place.
The dustup over European security, which threatened to divert attention from the weekend’s somber remembrance ceremonies, was just the latest example of fallout from Trump’s unpredictable brand of Twitter-assisted diplomacy.
His fractious, destabilizing relationship with Europe has driven a wedge between the U.S. and some of its oldest allies on issues including trade, defense spending and his seeming deference to their looming neighbor to the east, Russia’s Vladimir Putin. It also underscored the hot-and-cold relationship that Trump has had with Macron, who has increasingly branded himself as a bulwark against the rising tide of Trump-style nationalism across Europe.
The brouhaha began Friday night, when Trump unleashed an angry Twitter jab at his host just as Air Force One touched down in Paris. Trump tweeted that Macron “has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the U.S., China and Russia. Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly!”
Trump’s tweet was especially wounding to Macron. Macron’s office said Trump had misunderstood the French leaders’ comments, lumping together two different ideas. Macron had said in an interview that Europe needs to protect itself against cyber threats and the “interference in our democracies” from “China, Russia and even the United States.” Later, he made the case that Europe needs to build up its own military because it can no longer depend on the U.S. for defense.
The two men struck a more friendly tone as they opened their meeting at the grand presidential residence.
“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.
Trump has long complained about uncompensated U.S. defense spending that benefits allies, and earlier this year threatened to turn his back on NATO if members didn’t boost their defense spending. Trump said Macron “understands that and he understands the United States can only do so much.”
Macron defended his viewpoint, saying he shares Trump’s insistence that there be more burden sharing. He said it’s “unfair to have the European security today being assured just by the United States,” but did not respond to a question about why he felt France needed protection from the U.S.