PARIS — President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron sought to diffuse tensions Saturday over comments by both leaders that threatened to cast a shadow over a weekend celebration marking 100 years since the end of World War I.
The American and French leaders, who have had somewhat of an up-and-down relationship, worked to project unity of opinion over whether Europe should create an army of its own.
Their meeting got off to a testy start. Trump unleashed an angry Twitter jab at his French host as he arrived in France late Friday. He tweeted that Macron “has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the U.S., China and Russia.
Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly!”
Macron’s office said Trump misunderstood Macron’s comments.
The leaders met Saturday at the Elysee Palace and, asked about the tweet, Trump said Macron “understand that the United States can only do so much,” adding that the U.S. wants to help. Trump added that he and Macron are “getting along from the standpoint of fairness.”
Macron defended his viewpoint, saying “I do share President Trump’s views that we need a much better burden sharing with NATO and that’s why I do believe that my proposal for a European defense” is “utterly consistent with that.”
An official in Macron’s office said Trump lumped together two different comments by the French president, and that the comments would be on the table for Saturday’s meeting. By custom, the official was not authorized to be publicly name.
Macron said in an interview earlier this week that Europe needs to protect itself against “China, Russia and even the United States” in terms of cyberspace. Later, Macron reiterated that Europe needs to build up its own military because it can no longer depend on the U.S. for defense.
Trump has made similar arguments, particularly in urging NATO’s European members to increase its share of defense spending.
Macron greeted Trump with a handshake and pats on the arm as the American president arrived at the Elysee Palace in a cool drizzle.
Both leaders flashed a thumbs-up to waiting reporters but ignored their shouted questions about Macron’s remarks and Trump’s reaction.
In comment before the leaders went behind closed doors for talks, Macron referred to Trump as “my good friend” and appeared to tap him on the thigh.
The comments by Trump were a fresh sign that the “America first” president was ready to chart his own course yet again as world leaders gathered to remember the coalition that brought an end to the first global war in which millions were killed.
Trump was joining scores of other world leaders Sunday for a ceremony in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe to mark the WWI centennial.
The weekend visit comes on the heels of midterm elections in which Americans delivered a split referendum on his presidency, keeping the Senate in his Republican Party’s control but giving control of the House to opposition Democrats.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump were also visiting the American cemetery in Belleau, France, on Saturday to pay respects to U.S. soldiers who died on French soil during World War I.
By JILL COLVIN and DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Associated Press