Trump misses ceme­tery visit as Macron and Merkel vow unity

Lead­ers visit the place in Com­piègne where Ger­many and France by turns ca­pit­u­lated

The Observer - - News - Kim Will­sher

Un­der grey clouds and per­sis­tent driz­zle, France’s pres­i­dent, Em­manuel Macron, and Ger­many’s chan­cel­lor, An­gela Merkel, clasped hands yes­ter­day at a solemn cer­e­mony at Com­piègne as they marked the centenary of the ar­mistice sign­ing.

It was the first time since 1940 that lead­ers from the two coun­tries had met at the historic site, where Mar­shal Fer­di­nand Foch, supreme com­man­der of the western front, signed the cease­fire agree­ment with Ger­many in a rail­way car­riage.

Yes­ter­day, as the French and Ger­man na­tional an­thems were played, the sun briefly broke through and the chan­cel­lor rested her head briefly on the pres­i­dent’s. The two lead­ers laid a wreath and un­veiled a plaque cel­e­brat­ing their rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. They then signed the vis­i­tors’ book in a replica of Foch’s rail­way car­riage, known as the Com­piègne Wagon, where in an act of re­venge Adolf Hitler forced France to sign its ca­pit­u­la­tion in June 1940.

“We owe it to our sol­diers,” said Macron af­ter­wards. Sym­bol­i­cally, he and Merkel sat side by side and not face to face as the French and Ger­man rep­re­sen­ta­tives had in 1918 and 1940.

Af­ter the cer­e­mony both lead­ers re­turned to Paris, where the French pres­i­dent hosted a din­ner at the Musée d’Or­say for Donald Trump and dozens of other for­eign lead­ers, in­clud­ing Rus­sian pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, be­fore to­day’s commemoration cer­e­mony at the Arc de Tri­om­phe.

The US pres­i­dent, who had flown in to the French cap­i­tal on Fri­day, had been due to visit the Aisne-Marne Amer­i­can Ceme­tery yes­ter­day, where Amer­i­can and French troops re­pelled the Ger­mans in 1918, but called it off be­cause of the rain.

That sparked in­credulity among some of Trump’s crit­ics: Ni­cholas Soames, the Con­ser­va­tive MP and grand­son of Sir Win­ston Churchill, tweeted: “They died with their face to the foe and that pa­thetic in­ad­e­quate @re­alDon­aldTrump couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his re­spects to The Fallen# he snot fit to rep­re­sent his great coun­try .”

The US po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor David Frum tweeted: “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.”

In Com­piègne, 80 miles north-east of Paris, Jean-Claude Tran­chant, one of the French flag-bear­ers at the cer­e­mony, said he had been mark­ing the ar­mistice for 25 years. “I am very happy Mme Merkel is here to­day. It is log­i­cal that she is with us for the centenary. I think ev­ery­one is happy she is here. It’s sym­bolic for our coun­try and in­ter­na­tion­ally. It’s also im­por­tant for the younger gen­er­a­tion and the fu­ture,” he said.

Around 1,000 mem­bers of the pub­lic were in­vited to the cer­e­mony, in­clud­ing groups of French and Ger­man school­child­ren. High-school stu­dent Mick­aël Ar­lin, 16, had been vis­it­ing first world war com­mem­o­ra­tive sites, in­clud­ing Ver­dun, with a group of Ger­man stu­dents. “It has helped us un­der­stand what is at stake to­day and helped us go fur­ther than just words,” he told French TV.

The Elysée said Merkel’s visit to Com­piègne was “highly sym­bolic”. “It’s the first time French and Ger­man lead­ers have vis­ited the site since the sec­ond world war,” the pres­i­den­tial palace said, sug­gest­ing the event echoed the mo­ment that chan­cel­lor Helmut Kohl and Pres­i­dent François Mit­ter­rand ap­peared hand-in-hand at Ver­dun in 1984.

Ear­lier, in Paris, Macron and Trump had agreed on the need for more Euro­pean de­fence spend­ing. The meet­ing had been ex­pected to be tense af­ter the US pres­i­dent tweeted that Macron’s call for a Euro­pean army to de­fend against the Chi­nese, Rus­sians and Amer­i­cans was “in­sult­ing”. But as the two men met on the steps of the Elysée, both gave the thumbs-up to pho­tog­ra­phers, and Macron de­scribed Trump as “my good friend”.

Alamy

Mar­shal Foch, sec­ond from right, and his en­tourage leav­ing the Com­piègne car­riage in north­ern France in 1918, af­ter the sign­ing of the ar­mistice.

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