Trump slams Macron’s army calls
US ASKS FRANCE TO PAY ITS NATO DUES
>> PARIS: US President Donald Trump set a combative tone for a World War I commemorative visit to Paris yesterday when he blasted calls by French President Emmanuel Macron for a European army to defend against threats from powers including the US.
No sooner had Mr Trump touched down in Paris for a weekend of events to mark the end of WWI — including a meeting with Mr Macron — than he fired off a tweet castigating his host over proposals to endow the EU with its own, joint 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 late on Friday, 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, who is visiting France with his wife Melania for the second time since becoming president, was referring to a call made by Mr Macron in an interview on Tuesday for a “real European army”.
Mr Macron, an ardent advocate of closer European integration, said a joint European Union military force was needed to wean Europe off American might, not least after Mr Trump announced he was pulling out of a Cold War-era nuclear treaty.
“We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States,” he told the Europe 1 broadcaster, suggesting for the first time that Europe might need to defend itself from America.
The French president, who has enacted major defence spending hikes to bring France in line with Nato spending targets, is spearheading the creation of a nine-country European rapid reaction force, independent from Nato.
The force, which would fall far short of an army in size and scope, would be able to rapidly mount a joint military operation, evacuate civilians from a war zone or provide aid after a natural disaster.
Proposals for a full EU army with a joint command — a pet project of European — remain deeply sensitive, however, among EU members anxious to defend their sovereignty.
French officials said Mr Macron’s mooted EU “army” was merely a call for closer defence integration.
The row over EU defence risks overshadowing commemorations to be attended by 70 world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Mr Macron and Mr Trump met at the Elysee Palace at around 11am local time yesterday for bilateral talks on issues expected to include Syria and Iran before lunching with Melania and Mr Macron’s wife Brigitte.
The last time the Macrons hosted the Trumps in Paris in July 2017, during Bastille Day celebrations, they whisked them up the Eiffel Tower for a private dinner on the second floor.
The tone of this visit is markedly less festive.
Mr Trump is scheduled to visit two American cemeteries over the course of the weekend, which will culminate with a solemn ceremony today at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe, a national monument to France’s war dead.
Speaking to reporters on Friday before his departure, Mr Trump said he was “looking forward” to the trip.
“I think it will be something very, very special,” he said.
The isolationist US leader, however, was able to duck out of a peace conference scheduled to be held today afternoon, which Mr Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel intend to use as a platform for promoting multilateralism.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton on Friday downplayed Mr Trump’s decision not to attend the inaugural Paris Peace Forum — to be attended by Mr Putin and Mr Erdogan — telling reporters in Paris the president had “a lot of pressing issues” to attend to.
Mr Trump and Mr Macron struck up a warm relationship initially, particularly during the US leader’s first visit to Paris, but have repeatedly clashed since then over a growing list of issues, including Mr Trump pulling America out of the 2015 Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal.
The WWI commemorations come at a watershed moment for the liberal postwar order, with anti-immigration populists at the helm in the US and Brazil, sharing power in Italy, and making strong gains in Germany, which prompted Ms Merkel to announce she is bowing out in 2021.
Mr Macron met British Prime Minister Theresa May near the Belgian border on Friday to try to make progress on a Brexit deal and remember the fallen of the battlefields of the Somme.
TENSE VISIT: US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive at Orly airport, outside Paris on Friday.
BETTER DAYS: French President Emmanuel Macron, second left, shakes hands with US President Donald Trump after the Bastille Day military parade in 2017.