Macron seeks to defuse spat over de­fence with Trump

The Straits Times - - FRONT PAGE -

PARIS French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron at­tempted to defuse a row with vis­it­ing US coun­ter­part Donald Trump yes­ter­day, hail­ing the “great sol­i­dar­ity” be­tween their coun­tries af­ter Mr Trump had blasted his pro­pos­als for a Euro­pean army.

The two lead­ers held talks at the pres­i­den­tial palace in Paris ahead of World War I com­mem­o­ra­tions taking place in the shadow of a new na­tion­al­ist surge world­wide.

Their body lan­guage was markedly less warm than dur­ing Mr Trump’s last visit to Paris in July last year, un­der­scor­ing a gen­eral cool­ing in re­la­tions which were fur­ther strained by a late-night tweet by Mr Trump at­tack­ing Mr Macron.

Ap­pear­ing anx­ious to ap­pease Mr Trump, who has ac­cused the Euro­pean Union of fail­ing to pull its weight on Nato spend­ing, Mr Macron said he shared his view that “we need a much bet­ter bur­den-shar­ing within Nato”.

His calls for closer Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion on de­fence would mean “more Europe in Nato”, he ar­gued, later pat­ting Mr Trump’s knee af­fec­tion­ately.

Mr Trump, who ap­peared more aloof, de­scribed him­self and Mr Macron as “very good friends” and said he “ap­pre­ci­ated” the re­marks about bur­den-shar­ing.

“We want a strong Europe. It’s very im­por­tant to us to have a strong Europe,” he said.

Mr Trump’s visit, which kicks off two days of events mark­ing the centenary of the end of World War I, had looked set to be tumultuous af- ter he fired off a tweet late last Fri­day be­rat­ing Mr Macron’s calls for a Euro­pean army.

“Pres­i­dent Macron of France has just sug­gested that Europe build its own mil­i­tary in or­der to pro­tect it­self from the US, China and Rus­sia,” the US Pres­i­dent tweeted, re­fer­ring to re­marks made by Mr Macron three days ear­lier.

“Very in­sult­ing, but per­haps Europe should first pay its fair share of Nato, which the US sub­sidises greatly!” he added.

Mr Trump ap­peared par­tic­u­larly irked by the French leader’s ref­er­ence to the US along­side China and Rus­sia as na­tional se­cu­rity threats.

In a Europe 1 ra­dio in­ter­view, Mr Macron had re­ferred to Mr Trump’s plans to pull the US out of a Cold War-era nu­clear treaty and said a joint EU mil­i­tary force was needed to wean Europe off re­liance on the US.

“We are be­ing hit by at­tempted break-ins in cy­berspace and in­ter­ven­tions else­where in our demo­cratic lives,” Mr Macron said.

“We have to pro­tect our­selves with re­spect to China, Rus­sia and even the United States,” he said, call­ing Europe “the prin­ci­pal vic­tim” of Mr Trump’s de­ci­sion to aban­don the mis­sile treaty with Rus­sia.

Mr Macron’s of­fice yes­ter­day ac­knowl­edged that his re­marks “could cre­ate con­fu­sion” but em­pha­sised: “He never said we need a Euro­pean army against the United States.”

Af­ter their talks, Mr Trump and Mr Macron had lunch with their wives, Me­la­nia and Brigitte.

The US leader was to join Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan and nearly 70 other world lead­ers yes­ter­day evening at a din­ner at the Or­say Mu­seum ahead of to­day’s solemn com­mem­o­ra­tions at the Arc de Tri­om­phe un­der which lies the tomb of the Un­known Sol­dier.

The events cap a week packed with sym­bol­ism to re­mem­ber the si­lenc­ing of the guns, with memo­ri­als held across the world for a con­flict that claimed around 18 mil­lion lives and in­volved more than 70 cur­rent-day na­tions.

Mr Macron, a cen­trist, has re­peat­edly in­voked the war in re­cent weeks to ham­mer home his mes­sage that ris­ing na­tion­al­ism is again desta­bil­is­ing the world.

PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Mrs Brigitte Macron (left) greet­ing Mrs Me­la­nia Trump yes­ter­day.

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