Lead­ers high­light changed re­la­tions ahead of WWI cen­ten­nial

The Columbus Dispatch - - Front Page - By Raf Casert and An­gela Charlton The Washington Post con­trib­uted to this story.

PARIS — Trav­el­ing from across the world to mon­u­ments hon­or­ing sol­diers who fell 100 years ago, vic­tors and van­quished alike marked those sac­ri­fices Satur­day ahead of Ar­mistice Day and as­sessed al­liances that have been re­drawn dra­mat­i­cally since the dark days of World War I.

World lead­ers flocked to Paris on Satur­day, many vis­it­ing memo­ri­als and bat­tle­fields that had par­tic­u­lar mean­ing for their coun­tries’ his­to­ries.

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump was sched­uled to visit the ceme­tery where the dead from the break­through Bat­tle of Bel­leau Wood are buried. He later can­celed due to rain.

Cana­dian prime min­is­ter Justin Trudeau vis­ited the site of a sur­pris­ing Cana­dian vic­tory ear­lier in the day.

The lead­ers of for­mer en­e­mies France and Ger­many made a trip to­gether to the site north of Paris where the de­feated Ger­mans and the Al­lies signed the agree­ment that ended the 1914-18 war. In an in­ti­mate ges­ture that un­der­scored their coun­tries’ cur­rent roles as guar­an­tors of peace in Europe, the two lead­ers held their heads to­gether in friend­ship.

Af­ter Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel briefly snug­gled her head into the neck of French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, the two went in­side a replica of the train car where the ar­mistice was reached and put their names in a guest­book. Macron then took Merkel’s hand in his, again high­light­ing the changes on the con­ti­nent where two world wars were fought in the 20th cen­tury.

“Our Europe has been at peace for 73 years. There is no prece­dent for it, and it is at peace be­cause we willed it and first and fore­most, be­cause Ger­many and France wanted it,” he said.

Merkel was equally con­vinced of the power their friend­ship ex­udes.

“The will is there, and I say this for Ger­many with full con­vic­tion, to do ev­ery­thing to achieve a more peace­ful or­der in the world even though we know we have very, very much work still ahead of us,” she said.

In con­trast to this show of af­fec­tion was a meet­ing French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, right, and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel at­tend a cer­e­mony Satur­day in Com­piegne, north of Paris, at the spot where the ar­mistice that ended World War I was signed. be­tween Macron and U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ear­lier Satur­day, a some­what awk­ward in­ter­ac­tion in which the two dis­cussed Macron’s pro­posal to ex­pand Eu­ro­pean armies, a project Trump had tweeted Fri­day night he found “very in­sult­ing.”

Call­ing Trump “my good friend,” Macron pro­claimed “great sol­i­dar­ity” be­tween the two na­tions and said the lead­ers will dis­cuss a litany of is­sues dur­ing their one-on-one meet­ing, in­clud­ing Iran, Syria, Ye­men, trade and cli­mate change.

Trump re­cip­ro­cated Macron’s warm tone, telling the French leader that we “have be­come very good friends” and that the two coun­tries “have much in com­mon in many ways.”

Even as their words aimed to gloss over their dif­fer­ences, their body lan­guage be­trayed the grow­ing ten­sions.

Dur­ing the meet­ing, the U.S. pres­i­dent ap­peared sub­dued, al­most sullen, as Macron tried to mask grow­ing ten­sions be­tween them. When Macron tried to pat Trump’s thigh, the Amer­i­can ig­nored him and didn’t ac­knowl­edge the touch or re­cip­ro­cate it — a marked dif­fer­ence from their demon­stra­tive power-grip hand­shakes and back slaps dur­ing pre­vi­ous meet­ings.

Af­ter his meet­ing with Macron, Trump had been sched­uled to head to the U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, left, and French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron con­clude a meet­ing in Paris on Satur­day. bat­tle­field of Bel­leau Wood, 55 miles north­east of the cap­i­tal, where U.S. troops had their break­through bat­tle by stop­ping a Ger­man push for Paris shortly af­ter en­ter­ing the war in 1917.

How­ever, Trump can­celed his visit be­cause of bad weather and im­me­di­ately trig­gered crit­i­cism.

“It’s in­cred­i­ble that a pres­i­dent would travel to France for this sig­nif­i­cant an­niver­sary — and then re­main in his ho­tel room watch­ing TV rather than pay in per­son his re­spects to the Amer­i­cans who gave their lives in France for the vic­tory gained 100 years ago to­mor­row,” David Frum, a speech­writer for for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, tweeted.

The White House sent a del­e­ga­tion of Chief of Staff John Kelly and Gen. Joseph Dun­ford Jr., chair­man of the joint chiefs of staf­fin Trump’s place.

Ben Rhodes, who served as deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, said the White House should have had a fall­back plan for the pres­i­dent.

“There is al­ways a rain op­tion. Al­ways,” Rhodes said.

It was not com­pletely clear why the Trumps were un­able to at­tend. The ceme­tery is 50 miles from Paris. Per­haps the pres­i­dent was plan­ning to travel on Marine One, which is oc­ca­sion­ally grounded by the Se­cret Ser­vice.

Trump is sched­uled to visit a dif­fer­ent U.S. ceme­tery close to Paris on Sun­day.

At dawn Satur­day, Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau was at Vimy Ridge, the bat­tle­field in north­ern France where Canada found its sense of self when it de­feated Ger­man op­po­si­tion against the odds.

Stand­ing amid the white head­stones against an ashen sky, Trudeau ad­dressed the fallen, say­ing what Canada has achieved in the past cen­tury has been “a his­tory built on your sac­ri­fice. You stand for the val­ues on which Canada was built.”

In south­ern Bel­gium’s Mons, Cana­di­ans were also laud­ing Ge­orge Price, the last Com­mon­wealth sol­dier to die in the war when he was shot by a Ger­man sniper two min­utes be­fore the ar­mistice took ef­fect.

All these lead­ers and dozens of oth­ers are stay­ing in Paris and will re­turn there for the cen­ten­nial cel­e­bra­tion Sun­day, again mak­ing the city a diplo­matic hub and the cen­ter of the globe’s at­ten­tion, much like it was in 1914 when Ger­many sought to take it and the Al­lies suc­cess­fully de­fended it.

In the four years of fight­ing, re­mem­bered for bru­tal trench war­fare and the first use of gas, France, the Bri­tish em­pire, Rus­sia and the United States had the main armies op­pos­ing a Ger­man-led coali­tion that also in­cluded the Aus­troHun­gar­ian and Ot­toman em­pires.

Al­most 10 mil­lion sol­diers died. France lost 1.4 mil­lion and Ger­many 2 mil­lion.

Across the line that once marked the Western Front, lead­ers lauded the courage of sol­diers who were killed dur­ing the un­prece­dented slaugh­ter, be­fore con­verg­ing on Paris for a din­ner.

At the din­ner, Macron warned world lead­ers against tak­ing peace for granted, say­ing “we will talk about this peace that our pre­de­ces­sors tried to con­struct 100 years ago but failed to pre­serve, be­cause 20 years later a new war broke out.”

The ar­mistice en­tered into force on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, and on Sun­day 69 world lead­ers will com­mem­o­rate the cen­ten­nial of the event at the Tomb of the Un­known Sol­dier, un­der­neath the Arc de Tri­om­phe in cen­tral Paris.

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