LONDON – President Donald Trump attacked French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday when the two leaders met for talks on the sidelines of NATO meetings in the British capital.
Trump is in London to a 70th anniversary meeting of the military alliance, amid discussions on defense spending, fights over trade and climate policy, fights over Turkey's actions in Syria and Iran. The official program begins on Wednesday.
But before that, Trump said Tuesday that Macron's recent comments that NATO is "brain dead" were "very unpleasant" and "very insulting" to the other 28 alliance members. "No one needs NATO more than France," he said.
"It's a very dangerous statement for them to make," Trump said, as his visit to NATO now risks being overshadowed by his meeting with Macron.
"Macron is taking advantage of the moment, trying to be disruptive in his own way, so we'll see how it works," said Heather Conley, a foreign affairs expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
NATO arrives in London:Cracks in guild armor begin to appear
Among Macron's interruptions: continuing to argue for the relevance of Iran's nuclear agreement from which Trump withdrew; announcing at the end of August that Europe needed to seek greater accommodation with Russia and China; and his "brain death" comments in an interview with The Economist and a reference, in part, to Turkey's raid on Kurdish-controlled Syria to eradicate fighters he considers terrorists but who were also helping US-led forces fight the Islamic regime. State group.
Macron has also long argued that Trump's departure from the international climate agreement was a mistake. And the president of France wants the military alliance, founded in 1949 as a bulwark against the Soviet Union, to focus more on combating global terrorism.
For his part, Trump repeatedly called the alliance "obsolete" and publicly attacked NATO members for failing to meet defense spending commitments, a scenario that slowly began to be rectified as more NATO allies met the required levels of 2% of GDP. Last year NATO summitTrump arrived late and called Germany "delinquent" and "captive" from Russia.
"Many countries have not paid," Trump said on Tuesday. "You could argue that they were in default for 25 to 30 years."
In rising tensions, when Trump arrived in London late Tuesday, the White House said it was considering imposing tariffs of up to $ 2.4 billion on French products in response to the new digital services tax. from that country that targets US tech companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google.
Tariffs would affect French cheese, wines and bags.
Macron "wants a real strategic discussion" about NATO, said Thomas Gomart, director of IFRI, a Paris-based international relations institute. "Not just to pretend it's okay."
Still, after Trump and Macron met in person on Tuesday, the US leader emitted a conciliatory tone in front of the media, although the chemistry between the two leaders seemed colder than in previous meetings.
"We have a smaller dispute. I think we will probably be able to resolve that," said Trump.
Macron said NATO needs to focus on new threats, not just money.
Trump also raised the issue of foreign Islamic State fighters captured by US-led forces in Syria. "They are all locked, but many are from France, many from Germany and the United Kingdom, mainly from Europe. And some countries agree. I have not talked to the president about this," he said, turning to Macron.
"Would you like some good ISIS fighters? I can give it to you," said Trump.
Macron responded by saying that "for me the first objective in the region is to finish work against (the Islamic State group)," a reference to Trump's decision to order US troops out of Syria amid Turkey's foray. But since Trump's decision to withdraw in October, some American troops remain in the country.
Trump called NATO meetings in London "one of the most important days we do as president" and he began a series of meetings on Tuesday, holding closed-door talks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
In broad pre-press comments, including Macron's comments on NATO, Trump said "NATO serves a great purpose."
He also criticized France for the digital services tax, saying "if anyone would tax US companies, it would be me."
Trump also addressed the prospect of signing a trade deal with China, saying he "likes the idea of waiting until after the election (2020)" for that deal.
He described recent violent protests in Iran, in which the human rights group said more than 200 people were killed as a "terrible thing."
Trump confirmed that he will meet British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but said he "doesn't think" about Britain's impending general election on December 12. British media speculated that a meeting with Trump, bogged down in the impeachment process. back in Washington may not be a good option for Johnson before the vote. "I don't want to complicate matters," Trump said of the British election.
Trump attended a reception with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace to commemorate the military alliance. He also met with Princes Charles and his wife, Camilla.
In North Korea, where Trump is trying to get Kim Jong Un to abandon his nuclear weapons program, Trump said that "if you listen to President Obama, we will be in World War III now." However, negotiations with North Korea have stalled.
Gulnur Aybet, senior adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said his government's decision to invade northeastern Syria "is not a NATO issue." Macron expressed disgust at Turkey's failure to coordinate its actions in Syria with NATO, an operation against which the remaining alliance opposed.
Although he is not in Washington for Wednesday's impeachment hearing, at which the House Judiciary Committee will reveal witnesses, the inquiry followed Trump to London. This is largely by its own design.
"I just landed in the UK, heading to London for NATO meetings tomorrow. Before landing, I read the Republican Report on the Impeachment Scam. Great job! The Radical Left IS NOT CASE. Read the Transcripts. It Shouldn't Even Be allowed. Can we go to the Supreme Court to stop? " president tweeted after arriving at Stansted Airport on the outskirts of London.
Sitting next to Stoltenberg on Tuesday, Trump said, "I didn't do anything wrong. You don't blame someone when they didn't do anything wrong."