The bromance between Trump and Macron may be healing, after the two estranged leaders agreed on Saturday morning on the need for more European defense spending, easing tensions over a Trump Friday tweet that described Macron’s call for a European army as “very insulting.”
Seated on gilded chairs in the ornate presidential palace, Macron placed his hand on Trump’s knee and referred to him as “my friend”, and even though Trump kept more distance, the two talked up common ground on an issue that had caused much friction in recent months.
“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 Trump. “We want to help Europe but it has to be fair. Right now the burden sharing has been largely on the United States.”
Macron, whose approval rating recently tumbled so low that last weekend his nemesis Marine le Pen for the first time overtook the French leader in the polls, shared Trump’s sentiments, saying he wanted Europe to bear a greater share of the defense costs within NATO, a point he has made repeatedly since taking office, alongside his ambitions for Europe to have its own military capability.
“That’s why I do believe that we need more European capacities, more European defense, in order to take this part of the burden,” Macron said in English. “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.”
Meanwhile, as expected, the long-running fascination with the two leaders’ handshake has not gone away.
Trump’s European visit, fresh off the US midterm elections that saw the end of the Republican Party’s House majority, is aimed at bolstering the U.S.-European alliance at a symbolic time, with the world marking the centenary of World War One’s armistice. But as we reported last night, in a tweet just as he landed in Paris, Trump slammed comments Macron made in a Europe 1 radio interview this week in which he cast the United States as a threat.
Discussing the growing dangers from cyber-hacking, meddling in electoral processes and the U.S. decision to withdraw from a missile treaty, Macron said Europe needed to protect itself against China, Russia “and even the United States”. Macron also discussed the need for a European army, saying that “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.”
An angry Trump blasting Macron’s comments, which were “very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly.”
On Saturday, the Elysee said the misunderstanding, which it blamed on “exaggerated” U.S. press reports, was cleared up during more than an hour of talks it described as “substantial” and “very constructive”.
“We had a great discussion and we are aligned,” the Elysee quoted Trump as saying during the meeting, which covered trade, defense, Syria and the fallout from the murder in Istanbul last month of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
According to a French official, the meeting between the two allowed Macron to explain French views and proposals on European security, with both leaders views “aligned” on issue at end of meeting, adding that for U.S., it is important to have more burden sharing for NATO, while for French, important to have more EU unity and sovereignty.
The two leaders also discussed the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, which the US has threatened to pull out of: Macron said Europeans should be involved in the discussions, while the U.S. delegation said it had an understanding of the European position. And while the French are not “totally unsympathetic” to the U.S. view on nuclear treaty, especially that it doesn’t cover China they still haven’t decided if the Russians are “in breach.”
It was not immediately clear if any progress had been made on the disagreement between the US and Europe on Iranian sanctions: the French president, who tried but failed earlier this year to talk 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.
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According to Reuters, after what promises to be a riveting lunch with Macron and their wives, Melania and Brigitte, Trump was scheduled to visit an American cemetery at Belleau Wood, east of Paris but he canceled the trip due to the weather.
White House chief of staff John Kelly, a retired four-star general, and General Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will attend the ceremony instead, the White House said. Then on Sunday, after a commemoration at the Arc de Triomphe to honor the armistice centenary, Trump is scheduled to visit an American cemetery at Suresnes, on the western outskirts of the capital, where he will make formal remarks.
On Sunday, Trump is also expected to chat briefly with Vladimir Putin when both are among the 70 world leaders set to gather at the Arc de Triomphe. Trump and the Russian leader are expected to have formal talks later this month when both attend a G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, which will be the month’s key event from a capital markets standpoint as the US president is expected to talk to China’s Xi about a possible de-escalation in the trade war between the two countries.
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