Trump blasts French President Emmanuel Macron at NATO meeting planned to show unity

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President Trump lit into French President Emmanuel Macron Tuesday, criticizing comments the French leader made about NATO as “insulting” “very very nasty,” and “very disrespectful.”

Trump’s comments came hours before he was scheduled to meet with Macron at the start of a two-day leaders conference of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that is supposed to stress unity for an alliance that is marking its 70th anniversary.

While Trump targeted Macron’s comments that questioned NATO’s effectiveness — something he has also done — he suggested that his greater ire stemmed from Macron’s threat to levy a 3% tax on tech companies, including American giants Facebook, Google and Amazon, a topic he and Macron have been at odds over for much of this year.

“If anybody’s going to take advantage of the American companies it’s going to be us,” Trump said. “It’s not going to be France.”

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On another international economic issue, Trump continued the slow walkback of his statement from last week that the U.S. and China were close to resolving their trade war.

“I have no deadline,” Trump said, suggesting that a new trade deal with the Chinese might not come until after next year’s election. “The China trade deal is dependent on one thing: Do I want to make it?” he said.

Trump has made a habit of clashing publicly with allies and breaking diplomatic norms during international conferences, which factored into NATO officials’ decision to keep this year’s leaders meeting short.

Trump arrived in London late Monday evening and is scheduled to depart on Wednesday.

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Trump answered questions for more than 50 minutes with reporters during his initial meeting here with Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, at the Winfield House, the official residence of the U.S. Ambassador in the United Kingdom, located in Regent’s Park.

As Trump held forth on a variety of issues including impeachment, Russia, China trade and North Korean missile tests, Stoltenberg mostly sat watching, occasionally interjecting a comment about the importance of unity.

In addition to NATO officials, British political figures and candidates in next week’s parliamentary elections have also worried Trump would interfere in the campaign during his visit. Some conservatives here fear that Trump’s association with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Conservative Party leader, could hurt Johnson with British voters.

Trump said he would stay out of the election, but praised Johnson and insisted the two would be meeting, even though he does not have a one-on-one with the British leader on his public schedule.

“I stay out of it,” Trump said. “I think Boris is very capable, and I think he’ll do a good job.”

Trump also said he “can work with anybody” when asked about Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader who is Johnson’s chief opponent.

Macron had stirred controversy last month, worrying of NATO’s “brain death” in an interview with the Economist.

Ironically, the comments were spurred in large part by Trump’s “America First” agenda and his overall go-it-alone approach in Syria and other global hotspots that have concerned European allies about America’s reliability.

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Trump called NATO “obsolete” during his campaign for president. But on Tuesday, he cast himself as the alliance’s defender, blaming Macron as an outlier while touting his own efforts to prod allies to increase the size of their defense budgets.

“Nobody needs NATO more than France,” Trump said. “We benefit the least…That’s a very dangerous statement for them to make.”

He said the United States is helping Europe protect against a foe “that may or may not be a foe,” referring to Russia. Trump took credit for pushing NATO, which was founded to counter Russia, to broaden its focus to other threats.

“There are other foes out there also,” he said, further de-emphasizing Russian aggression.

Macron has tried more than other European leaders to befriend and flatter Trump. But like other allies, he has been frustrated by Trump’s rejection of the Paris Climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal as well as his fights over trade. Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on wine and other French products in retaliation for France’s tech tax.

The public clash with an ally is hardly unusual for Trump, who has flouted diplomatic norms observed by his predecessors. During the same session, Trump also attacked domestic foes, something prior presidents have usually resisted while on foreign soil.

“In Germany, they like Obama. The reason they like Obama because Obama gave the ship away. He allowed them to take everything,” Trump said of his predecessor. “They may not like me because I’m representing us, and I represent us strong. President Obama did not represent us strong.”

“He gave everything away” to Europe, Trump said, without specifying what he was talking about. “We’re still paying the price for what he did.”

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He called Democrats leading the impeachment inquiry against him “unpatriotic” and said they would be to blame if the probe causes “a cloud” on his efforts internationally.

He said he would not accept a censure resolution that would condemn his actions in Ukraine while stopping short of removing him.

“You don’t censure somebody when they did nothing wrong,” he said. “They’re what you call an investigation in search of a crime.”

Trump also weighed in on another domestic issue, the possibility that Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo would resign to run for Senate in Kansas.

Trump said Pompeo, who stood behind him while he made the comments, was doing a “tremendous job,” but “if I thought there was a risk to losing that seat, I would sit down and seriously talk to Mike.”

Many Republican leaders think there is a serious chance the party could lose the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Pat Roberts, who plans to retire, and they have urged Pompeo to run.

Even as Trump clashed with an allies and Democrats, he continued to stress his strong relationship with American adversaries. He shrugged his shoulders when asked about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s missile tests.

“He really likes sending rockets up doesn’t he. That’s why I call him rocket man,” Trump said, again emphasizing his personal ties to the autocrat.

And even as NATO allies and American officials have complained about Turkey’s incursion in northern Syria and its decision to purchase Russian S-400 missiles, Trump undercut any attempts to rein in the NATO member country.

He praised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for allowing the U.S. military to cross its air space during the mission that led to the death of Abu Bakr Baghdadi, the founder of Islamic State. And he misleadingly blamed Obama for Turkey’s decision to buy the weapons, echoing Erdogan’s own line.

In addition to meeting Macron later today, Trump is also scheduled to hold a Republican fundraiser expected to raise $3 million, meet with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have tea with Prince Charles and his wife, Duchess Camilla Parker Bowles, and attend a reception with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace.