(Bloomberg) -- French President Emmanuel Macron moved to smoothe over ruffled relations with Donald Trump after the U.S. president took offense at his proposal Europe create its own continental military force.
Macron received Trump at the Elysee Palace on a wet Saturday morning in Paris ahead of a weekend of commemorations with world leaders to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
But while both leaders flashed thumbs up signs as they met, the first task was to deal with a public spat over Macron’s comments in a radio interview this week that a “strong and sovereign Europe” was needed to defend the continent’s interests against China, Russia and “even the U.S.” Trump sent a tweet calling Macron’s proposal “very insulting” as the U.S. president’s plane landed Friday evening.
Macron moved quickly to defuse the disagreement, saying he agrees that Europe needs to do more to defend itself and that his efforts to create more common European Union defense initiatives were moves in that direction.
“Our defense cooperation is very important,” Macron said at the start of the meeting. “I do share President Trump’s view we need much better burden sharing within NATO. And that’s why I do believe my proposal for European defense are really consistent with that.”
Trump responded in kind.
“I appreciate what you are saying about burden sharing. We know what my attitude has been, and we want a strong Europe -- very important to us to have a strong Europe,” Trump said. “Whichever way we can do it the best and most efficient will be something that we both want.”
Trump has demanded that NATO countries spend more on their own defense and has questioned whether the U.S. should remain in the alliance. Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have both publicly questioned whether Europe can depend on the U.S. to come to its aid in the event of war. Macron noted that Trump doesn’t ask France or Germany to assure the defense of the U.S.
The French president has criticized Trump’s plan to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which the U.S. says Russia has violated. Europe is the “main victim” of Trump’s decision, Macron said in remarks made as he toured World War I battlefields ahead of the centenary of the Nov. 11 armistice, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Trump and Macron also have extensive differences over trade and U.S. sanctions on Iran.
However, Macron’s comments on stronger European defense cooperation were not intended to add to the points of contention. His stance is not new and he did not suggest that military forces should be directed against the U.S. And while greater European autonomy in all spheres is a focus for both Macron and Merkel, they are a long way from achieving it.
Speaking to reporters, a French official suggested that Trump had conflated two separate issues. Macron has said Trump’s withdrawal from the INF treaty concerns Europe and threatens European security, and therefore Europe should be involved in that decision, but that’s a separate point from Europe’s need to create an autonomous military force, the official said.
Macron’s point is the army is needed so that Europe doesn’t solely rely on the U.S. against threats from the east. The comment on the army was never intended to say Europe had to protect itself from the U.S., according to the French official.
While in Paris, Trump will see Russian leader Vladimir Putin for the first time since their summit earlier this year in Helsinki, though White House officials downplayed the encounter, saying Trump doesn’t plan extensive talks with Putin over a weekend that mostly will be devoted to ceremonies.
Trump drew bipartisan criticism after the Helsinki summit for suggesting he believed the Russian president’s denial of election interference over the assessment of his own intelligence community. The pair are expected to meet during the G-20 meeting later this month in Argentina, and the White House has invited Putin to visit Washington.
Other possible encounters to watch include Trump’s interaction with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, amid badly strained ties over security and economic issues. In particular, there is a growing rift over Iran sanctions.
The Trump administration reimposed sanctions on Iran over international opposition, blacklisting hundreds of Iranian firms and individuals. The sanctions stem from Trump’s efforts to exit or renegotiate an international deal struck during President Barack Obama’s administration offering economic relief in exchange for a freeze of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Macron and other European leaders have repeatedly criticized Trump’s efforts to undermine the deal, and have sought to create a special mechanism that would allow the bloc to avert U.S. sanctions and continue trading with Iran. That effort hasn’t yet yielded results, and the Trump administration has warned that countries hosting a so-called "special purpose vehicle" to subvert the sanctions could face penalties themselves. European leaders say maintaining trade ties is essential to keep Iran from exiting the deal and restarting development of nuclear weapons.
Earlier this summer, Trump imposed steel and aluminum tariffs on Europe, which retaliated with similar duties on American products including bourbon and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. In July, Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced they would halt the tit-for-tat penalties and proceed with additional negotiations.
Trump has criticized existing European tariffs and regulations on autos, and has said he believes it’s unfair that barriers are higher for American auto manufacturers seeking to sell in Europe. But the elimination of tariffs could have an acute impact on French companies including Renault SA and PSA Group, the maker of Peugeot and Citroen vehicles, who don’t sell cars in the U.S. but would face increased competition in their home markets.
In addition to his meetings with Macron, Trump is expected to visit the Belleau Wood battlefield and American cemetery on Saturday, and speak at a Veterans Day ceremony Sunday at the Suresnes American Cemetery.
--With assistance from Helene Fouquet.
To contact the reporters on this story: Gregory Viscusi in Paris at email@example.com;Justin Sink in Paris at firstname.lastname@example.org;Shannon Pettypiece in Paris at email@example.com
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