By Steve Holland
PARIS (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron headed towards a potential clash in talks on Saturday after Trump took offence to what he called a “very insulting” comment from Macron about the need to create a European army.
Fresh off U.S. congressional elections that saw his Republican Party’s power erode, Trump is spending the weekend in Paris to bolster the U.S.-European alliance at World War One remembrance ceremonies.
But in a tweet prior to landing in Paris, Trump took a dim view of comments Macron made in a Europe 1 radio interview this week.
Discussing cyber security threats and global instability in general, Macron said Europe needs to protect itself against China, Russia and the United States.
Later in the interview he spoke about the need for a European army.
“Confronted by Russia, which is on our borders and which has shown itself willing to be threatening, we need to have a Europe that can better defend itself by itself and in a sovereign way, without depending solely on the United States,” he said.
Trump, who has pushed NATO allies to pay more for their common defence and not rely so heavily on the United States, complained.
“Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly,” Trump said on Twitter.
The president, joined by his wife Melania and high-ranking U.S. officials, arrived late on Friday aboard Air Force One for a visit that he called “very special” and one that he “looked forward to.”
Trump’s official mission on the trip is to participate in ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One. He will make pilgrimages to two American cemeteries, Belleau Wood two hours east of Paris on Saturday and Suresnes on the western outskirts of the capital on Sunday, where he will make formal remarks.
His trip comes just days after congressional elections delivered results that will complicate his next two years. While Republicans slightly expanded their majority in the U.S. Senate, they lost control of the U.S. House of Representatives to Democrats who may use their newfound power to launch investigations into Trump and stymie his agenda.
Trump’s talks with Macron at Elysee Palace are likely to cover European concerns about Trump’s plans to withdraw the United States from the 1980s Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Agreement and U.S. renewal of sanctions against Iran.
Macron told Europe 1 radio that the “main victim” of the U.S. withdrawal from the INF accord was Europe and its security.
The French president, who tried but failed earlier this year to talk Trump out of withdrawing from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, has also voiced worries about the impact of sanctions on European companies doing business with Iran.
Trump may also chat briefly with Russian President Vladimir Putin when both are among dozens of world leaders gathered at the Arc de Triomphe to mark the end of the Great War 100 years ago. Trump and Putin are expected to have formal talks later this month when both attend a G-20 summit in Buenos Aires.
Trump, who has pursued “America First” policies since taking over the presidency in January 2017, declared himself a “nationalist” during the run-up to the congressional elections, a term likely to raise concerns in Europe.
“I’m not a globalist, but I want to take care of the globe, but first I have to take care of our country,” he told Fox News Channel’s “The Ingraham Angle” last week. “I want to help people around the world, but we have to take care of our country, or we won’t have a country.”
(Additional reporting by Luke Baker and Michel Rose; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)