The moment Air Force One touched down Friday at Orly airport, U.S. President Donald Trump blasted a caustic message for his host, terming French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for a European military “very insulting.”
In the touchdown tweet, Trump suggested Europe first pay “its fair share” of NATO before contemplating a Europe-wide force.
As he stepped off his plane, accompanied by the first lady, Melania Trump, a group of White House reporters shouted questions at him about the Twitter message. Trump stared at the journalists but did not respond before entering the presidential limousine.
The fresh dispute between the two leaders, who have had a hot and cold relationship, threatens to cast a pall on Sunday’s ceremony here marking the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, in which 40 million people died.
The United States and France were allies in both world wars and partners in the post-World War II security structure for Western Europe: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which is composed of separate forces of varying strengths and capabilities of the member nations.
Trump, however, since taking office nearly two years ago, has repeatedly questioned the mutual defense pact and harshly criticized European countries for failing to meet pledges of contributions of 2 percent of their gross domestic product to the alliance. He has also emphasized that the United States needs to take care of itself first before the needs of other nations, rejecting the concept of globalism.
Macron, during a visit to the World War I Western Front at Verdun, told Europe 1 radio that in face of a revived threat from Moscow, Europe needed to “defend itself better alone." Europeans, he said, cannot protect themselves without a “true European army.”
Macron, in the interview, also blasted Trump’s recent announcement that Washington would withdraw from the 1987 INF Treaty limiting nuclear weapons that U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to.
The “main victim” of the withdrawal, Macron argued, is “Europe and its security.”
The French president added that Europe also has to protect itself “with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America."
Nine defense ministers from European countries are discussing how such a new international force would operate.
European leaders have been rattled since a NATO summit earlier in the year, when they perceived Trump’s demands for billions of additional dollars in military spending from them as a threat that the United States would pull out of the nearly 70-year-old alliance.
But the idea of a European army has limited support in Berlin and London. Political and military analysts question whether European countries have the will, money or materiel to replace the raw power of the United States.
The issue comes into sharp focus as France commemorates the fallen of a century ago in the war that ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
As a prelude to Sunday’s ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe, which will be attended by dozens of world leaders, Trump and Macron are to meet on Saturday at Elysee Palace to discuss European and Mideast security.
Trump on Saturday also will make pilgrimages to two American cemeteries.