French President Emmanuel Macron made clear he was in no mood to back down following an extraordinary attack from President Donald Trump on Tuesday.
Sitting alongside Trump in London, Macron said he stood by his comments about NATO — he recently described the long-time coalition as suffering from “brain death” in part due to a lack of US leadership under Trump — and described the alliance as a “burden we share.”
Trump earlier on Tuesday described Macron’s “brain death” comments as “nasty” and “insulting.”
“I know that my statements created some reaction,” Macron said in English. “I do stand by [them].”
The awkward meeting was evidence of a souring of the relationship between the two leaders. Trump and Macron were once so close that their friendship was regarded as a “bromance.” But over the last two years, things have cooled after disagreements on defense, foreign policy, trade and climate change.
There was another tense moment when Trump was asked whether France had committed to taking back foreign fighters from Syria.
Trump said the matter hadn’t come up yet but jokingly asked Macron, “Would you like some nice ISIS fighters? I could give them to you. You could take every one you want.”
“Let’s be serious,” Macron said, adding that the number one priority is to defeat ISIS.
“It’s not yet done. I’m sorry to say that,” he added.
Clashes over Turkey and Syria
Macron also asserted that NATO needs “clarifications from the Turkish side” on key defense issues — such as the purchase of a Russian-made air defense missile system and Turkey’s categorization of several Kurdish groups in Syria, including those once supported by the US, as terrorists.
“How is possible to be a member of the alliance … and to buy the S-400s from the Russians?” Macron asked.
Macron said his understanding was that Turkey was planning to “block all the declarations of the summit if we do not agree of their definition of terrorist organizations” to include Kurdish groups in Northern Syria.
Earlier in an appearance with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump appeared to side with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over his actions in Syria, saying that the country was “very helpful” with the raid to kill ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He added that Turkey “could not have been nicer, could not have been more supportive.”
“I like Turkey and I get along very well with the President … I would hope that he’s a very good member of NATO,” Trump said, adding that he may meet with Erdogan, though a bilateral meeting has not been announced.
Trump and Macron also clashed over Russia.
“I think we get along with Russia,” Trump said, pointing to Macron and saying that he has a similar view.
But later, Macron said that while it is “important to have a strategic dialogue with Russia,” leaders “must do so without naïveté.”
Overall, Trump seemed to be attempting to strike a softer tone than earlier in the day and said that the the two leaders “have a minor dispute” on trade — just hours after slamming the the French President.
“We’ll probably be able to work it out,” Trump said during his meeting with Macron.
Trump was complimentary of Macron, saying that they have accomplished “a lot of good things together as partners.”
On trade specifically, Trump said things will soon be looking “rosy.”
But before meeting Macron, Trump ripped into the French President over France’s new tax on technology companies, which the US says will disproportionately impact American businesses.
“He just had the idea — Emmanuel had an idea: let’s tax those companies,” Trump said during a meeting with Stoltenberg. “I’m not going to let people take advantage of American companies, because if anyone is going to take advantage of the American companies, it’s going to be us. It’s not going to be France.”
Trump also complained that the US pays “a disproportionate amount,” and that the US is the country that benefits least from NATO membership.
Trump’s remarks highlighted the widening fissures within NATO as leaders gather in the British capital to celebrate the alliance’s 70th anniversary.
“When France makes a statement like they did about NATO, it’s a very dangerous statement to make,” Trump said earlier Tuesday morning as he made remarks and took questions ahead of a meeting with Stoltenberg.
“I do see France breaking off (from NATO). I’m looking at him and I’m saying he needs protection more than anybody and I see him breaking off, so I’m a little surprised at that,” Trump added.
Later Tuesday, Trump is expected to have tea with Prince Charles and attend two receptions — one hosted by Queen Elizabeth II and later, another hosted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.