PARIS — President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron insisted they were good friends Saturday after a dustup over their comments about European security that threatened to divert attention from a weekend ceremony marking 100 years since the end of World War I.
The American and French leaders, who have had somewhat of an up-and-down relationship, worked to project unity on whether Europe should create an army as they addressed reporters before going behind closed doors for talks at the Elysee Palace.
Trump opened his latest French visit on a testy note after he unleashed an angry Twitter jab at his host as he arrived for the celebration. Just as Air Force One touched down in Paris Friday night, 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!”
Macron’s office said Trump misunderstood Macron’s comments about sharing the defense burden, and the two men struck a more friendly tone as they opened their meeting at the grand presidential residence on a rainy day in Paris.
“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, adding that Macron “understands that and he understands the United States can only do so much, in fairness to the United States.”
Trump added that the U.S. wants to “absolutely be there” to help defend Europe but that “different countries have to also help.”
Macron defended his viewpoint, saying “I do share President Trump’s views that we need a much better burden sharing with NATO and that’s why I do believe that my proposal for a European defense” is “utterly consistent with that.”
Macron said it’s “unfair to have the European security today being assured just by the United States.”
An official in Macron’s office said Trump lumped together two different comments by the French president, and that the leaders would discuss the comments. By custom, the official was not authorized to be publicly named.
Macron said in an interview earlier this week that Europe needs to protect itself against “China, Russia and even the United States” in terms of cyberspace. Later, Macron reiterated that Europe needs to build up its own military because it can no longer depend on the U.S. for defense.
Trump has made similar arguments, particularly in urging NATO members to increase their defense spending.
It was the latest instance of Trump introducing tension before meeting with a world leader, then playing nice when they are in his face.
Earlier this year, Trump insulted British Prime Minister Theresa May at an especially vulnerable time for her government in an interview with a British tabloid. He also threatened not to work toward a trade deal with Britain and said May’s political nemesis would make a great prime minister. The interview was published as Trump attended a grand welcome dinner hosted by May hours after he arrived in London.
But Trump was far more cordial to May’s face. He complimented her leadership and expressed his great respect for her.
Trump’s tweet aside, Macron welcomed Trump in the courtyard of the Elysee Palace with a handshake and pats on the arm. Standing in a cool drizzle, the leaders flashed thumbs-up signs to reporters but ignored their shouted questions about Macron’s remarks.
Inside a gilded meeting room, Macron referred to Trump as “my good friend” and tapped him on the thigh. Trump said they had become “very good friends over the last couple of years” and were “similar in our views” on many issues.
Besides European security, the presidents also discussed the U.S. decision to pull out of an arms control treaty with Russia, Iran, the slaying of a Saudi journalist inside the Saudi Consulate in Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s role in the war in Yemen, according to French officials who briefed journalists afterward. The White House offered no comment on what the leaders discussed.
The tweet by Trump marked a fresh sign that the “America first” president was ready to go his own way yet again as world leaders gather to remember the coalition that brought an end to the first global war in which millions were killed.
Trump was joining scores of other world leaders for a Sunday ceremony in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe to mark the WWI centennial.
The weekend visit comes on the heels of midterm elections in which Americans delivered a split referendum on his presidency, keeping the Senate in his Republican Party’s control but giving control of the House to opposition Democrats.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump, who joined him at the palace later Saturday for a social lunch with Macron and his wife, Brigitte, had planned to visit the American cemetery in Belleau, France, to pay respects to U.S. soldiers who died on French soil. But the White House scrapped the visit because of rain. Trump is scheduled to visit a different American cemetery in France on Sunday.
Associated Press writers Angela Charlton in Paris and Jonathan Lemire and Deb Riechmann in Washington contributed to this report.
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