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For France, Trump at Bastille Day was Deeply Symbolic

  • Luis Ramirez

French President Emmanuel Macron talks with President Donald Trump next to a huge French flag after the Bastille Day parade in Paris, July 14, 2017.

U.S. President Donald Trump was the guest of honor Friday at France’s Bastille Day celebrations, an elaborate display that included military bands, flyovers by American jet fighters, and a parade that lasted more than two hours to mark the centennial of the U.S. entry into the First World War.

The American flag flew along with the French flag on Paris’ famed Champs Elysees, where U.S. troops marched in a parade with thousands of French soldiers, tanks, missile launchers, and armored personnel carriers.

More than 3,500 police took positions along the parade route to guard against potential terrorist attacks.

"We have also found sure allies, friends, who came to help us," Macron said."The United States of America are among them. This is why nothing will separate us, never.The presence today of the U.S. president, Donald Trump, and his wife is the sign of a friendship that lasts through time."

WATCH: Having Trump at Bastille Day Deeply Symbolic

In saying goodbye Friday, the Trumps, President Macron and his wife, Brigitte, walked together before Macron took Trump's hand and shook it firmly for several seconds -- in what has appeared to become a tradition for the two men.President Trump and first lady Melania Trump then went by motorcade to Orly Airport, where they boarded Air Force One for their flight to their next stop in New Jersey.

The celebrations in Paris came one year after a truck attack in the Mediterranean city of Nice killed 86 people. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

French Republican Guards ride their horses past the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, July 14, 2017. The annual Bastille Day parade is being opened by American troops with President Donald Trump as the guest of honor to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the United States entering World War I.
French Republican Guards ride their horses past the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, July 14, 2017. The annual Bastille Day parade is being opened by American troops with President Donald Trump as the guest of honor to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the United States entering World War I.

Agreement on counterterrorism

Counterterrorism was a central point when Trump met with Macron a day earlier, in an agenda that was otherwise marked with differences including on issues of climate change and trade.

In an atmosphere where French and other western European leaders are alarmed by what they perceive as Trump’s isolationist and protectionist tendencies, Macron worked to play up the things that he and the U.S. administration have in common. The fight against terrorism topped that list.

After their discussions on Thursday, the French leader said the proper answer to terrorism is to strengthen cooperation between the two countries and sustain a “never-ending fight against terrorists no matter where they are.”

“In this respect,” Macron said, “there is no difference and no gap between the French and the American positions.”

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, and his wife Brigitte Macron tour Napoleon Bonaparte’s Tomb at Les Invalides in Paris, France, July 13, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, and his wife Brigitte Macron tour Napoleon Bonaparte’s Tomb at Les Invalides in Paris, France, July 13, 2017.

Symbolic guest of honor

French Alphajets of the Patrouille de France fly over the Champs Elysees avenue, with the Arc de Triomphe in background, during the Bastille Day parade in Paris, July 14, 2017.
French Alphajets of the Patrouille de France fly over the Champs Elysees avenue, with the Arc de Triomphe in background, during the Bastille Day parade in Paris, July 14, 2017.

Having President Trump as the guest of honor for the commemoration on France’s National Day is deeply symbolic and a sign that France and Europe need America’s engagement as much as ever.

France on July 14 marks the 1789 storming by rebels of the Bastille prison in Paris, an event that signaled the start of the French Revolution.

This year, leaders coupled the festivities with the 100th anniversary of the U.S. decision to enter the First World War. The U.S. Congress’ declaration of war happened on April 6, 1917, but the anniversary is the subject of yearlong celebrations in France.

The United States entered the war against the Central Powers of the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria almost three years after it started and participated for only 19 months. However, Washington’s economic help and manpower helped the allies win a war they, broke and overstretched, could have easily lost.

Many people in America had opposed involvement in the war, causing the administration of then-President Woodrow Wilson to hesitate. Wilson ran for reelection in 1916 on the premise that he had kept the U.S. out of the war, but called for a declaration of war once he was reelected.

Watch: Trump, Macron Work to Bridge Differences, But No Promises on Climate

Hoping Trump will change positions

Analysts say France’s new leaders hope that by engaging President Trump, they can influence him to change positions on issues like climate change and steer him away from perceived protectionist measures like the tariffs he has threatened to slap on steel imports that could hurt EU members like Germany.

Hours before Macron met with President Trump on Thursday, he had consulted with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who paid a quick visit to Paris as Trump was arriving in the city.

After his discussions with Macron, President Trump gave indications that he might change his thinking on his decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord.

“Something could happen with respect to the Paris Accord. We'll see what happens. But we will talk about that over the coming period of time. And if it happens, that will be wonderful,” the U.S. leader told reporters Thursday. “And if it doesn’t, that will be okay, too,” he said.

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