Trump, Macron meet in Paris, discuss Europe’s security, financial burden

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French President Emmanuel Macron (L) greets US President Donald J. Trump upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Nov. 10, 2018. (EPA Photo)
French President Emmanuel Macron (L) greets US President Donald J. Trump upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Nov. 10, 2018. (EPA Photo)

The United States wants a "strong Europe" and is willing to help its ally, but Europe must be fair when it comes to sharing the defense burden, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Saturday.

"We want a strong Europe, it's very important to us and whichever way we can do it the best and more efficient would be something we both want," Trump said in remarks after being greeted by President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.

Asked what he meant when he tweeted that he felt insulted by Macron's comments that Europe should reduce its dependence on the United States for security, Trump said: "We want to help Europe but it has to be fair. Right now the burden sharing has been largely on the United States."

Trump said that Macron "understands that the United States can only do so much."

Macron said Europe had to take greater responsibility for its own defense, saying he agreed with Trump on the need for greater "burden sharing" by Europe in NATO.

"I am obviously going to share with President Trump the proposals made on Europe's strategic defence capabilities and the need for a Europe that is able to take on more of the common burden at the heart of NATO," Macron said ahead of talks with Trump at the Elysee Palace.

No sooner had Trump touched down in Paris than he fired off a tweet castigating his host over proposals to endow the EU with its own 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 U.S. president tweeted late Friday, referring to remarks made by Macron three days earlier.

"Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the US subsidizes greatly!," he added.

His tweet about Macron's EU defense proposals -- which came hours before the two leaders were to hold talks at the Elysee Palace -- referred to the French leader's call in an interview Tuesday for a "real European army."

In the radio interview, Macron said a joint European Union military force was needed to wean Europe off American might, not least after Trump announced he was pulling out of a Cold War-era nuclear treaty.

Referring also to cyber meddling in elections in the West, he said: "We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States."

Macron's office on Saturday acknowledged that his remarks "could create confusion" but stressed: "He never said we need a European army against the United States."

On Saturday morning Trump was in more conciliatory form.

"I am in Paris getting ready to celebrate the end of World War One. Is there anything better to celebrate than the end of a war, in particular that one, which was one of the bloodiest and worst of all time?" he tweeted.

The U.S. leader and his wife Melania are on their second visit to Paris since July 2017 when Trump was Macron's guest of honor at Bastille Day celebrations in Paris.

Macron has fashioned himself something of a "Trump whisperer" in Europe and has forged a close relationship with the president.

Their meeting Saturday, however, included declarations of friendship but lacked their previous over-the-top displays of warmth. Trump and Macron shook hands on the steps of the Elysee Palace and Trump gave a thumbs-up sign before the two entered talks

Trump is in France for two days of commemorations around the 100th anniversary of the end of World War one.

The row over European defense came at the start of a weekend of commemorations to be attended by 70 world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

After talks on issues including Syria and Iran, Macron and Trump will be joined by their spouses Melania and Brigitte for lunch.

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 will be markedly less festive.

Trump is scheduled to go to two American cemeteries over the course of the weekend, which will culminate with a solemn ceremony Sunday at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe.

The isolationist U.S. leader has, however, ducked out of a peace conference Sunday, which Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel intend to use as a platform for promoting multilateralism.

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton told reporters in Paris on Friday the president had "a lot of pressing issues" to attend to.

Trump and Macron struck up a warm relationship initially, particularly during the US leader's first visit to Paris, but have repeatedly clashed since over a growing list of issues, including Trump pulling America out of the 2015 Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal.

Macron has repeatedly called for the EU to build up its defense capabilities in view of Trump's demands that the EU shoulder more of the financial burden for ensuring its own security.

While a nine-country European rapid reaction force, independent from NATO, is under discussion, proposals for a full EU army with a joint command remain deeply sensitive.

The WWI commemorations come at a watershed moment for the liberal post-war order, with anti-immigration populists at the helm in the US and Brazil, sharing power in Italy, and making strong gains in Germany, prompting Merkel to announce she is bowing out in 2021.

Macron met British Prime Minister Theresa May near the Belgian border Friday to try to make progress on a Brexit deal and remember the fallen on the battlefields of the Somme.

On Saturday afternoon, he will visit the northern town of Compiegne where the armistice ending World War I was signed by the Allies and Germany in a train carriage in a forest clearing on November 11, 1918.

Macron will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the site, in a visit symbolizing the close ties between two countries that fought three wars between 1870 and 1945.

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