The American and French presidents discussed their differences about European security on Saturday, the morning after Donald Trump arrived in Paris and immediately criticized his host.
As they began their meeting at the Elysee Palace, the U.S. president again called for better burden sharing for the cost of defending Europe.
“We want a strong Europe,” said Trump.
Emmanuel Macron replied: “I do believe we need more European capacities, more European defense.”
But both leaders, at least while reporters were in the room, avoided any criticism of each other.
As Air Force one touched down Friday night at Orly Airport, Trump blasted a message for his host, terming 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.
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 that Europe needed to “defend itself better alone” and Europeans cannot protect themselves without a “true European army.”
Macron, in the interview, also blasted Trump’s recent announcement that Washington will withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) limiting nuclear weapons that U.S. President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to.
The “main victim” of the withdrawal, Macron argued, is “Europe and its security.”
French officials, however, say — without elaborating — there was a misunderstanding by Trump about Macron’s comments, noting the U.S. president told his French counterpart in their Saturday meeting: “I think we are much closer than it seems.”
The French president added 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 perceived Trump’s demands for billions of additional dollars in defense spending from them as a threat for the United States to 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 defense analysts question whether European countries have the will, money or military materiel to replace the raw power of the United States.
The idea of a European Defense Community was initially put forward by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1950 but the French parliament rejected it.
The issue again comes into sharp focus as dozens of world leaders gather in Paris to commemorate the fallen of a century ago in the war that ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
The U.S. leader has traveled to Europe with first lady Melania Trump to participate in a ceremony Sunday to mark the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the First World War in which 40 million people were killed. The commemoration will be held at the Arc de Triomphe on Sunday.
The United States and France – which was the first country, in 1778, to formally recognize America’s declaration of independence two years earlier from Britain — were allies in both world wars and partners in the post-World War II NATO security structure for Western Europe.
The alliance is composed of separate forces of varying strengths and capabilities of the member nations that are placed under a unified command whenever it carries out a mission.
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 spending two percent of their gross domestic product on defense. 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.