LONDON – President Donald Trump lashed out at France’s President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday ahead of scheduled direct talks between the two leaders on the sidelines of NATO meetings talking place in Britain’s capital.
Quarrels over defense spending, fights about trade and climate policy, rifts over Turkey’s actions in Syria, and Iran – Trump is in London for a gathering connected to the military alliance’s 70th anniversary. The official program starts Wednesday.
But ahead of that, Trump said Tuesday recent comments from Macron that NATO is experiencing “brain death” were “very insulting” to the alliance’s other 28 members. “Nobody needs NATO more than France,” he said.
“It’s a very dangerous statement for them to make.”
Trump’s NATO visit now risks being overshadowed by his meeting with Macron.
“Macron is seizing (the) moment, seeking to be disruptive in his own way, and so we will see how that works,” said Heather Conley, a foreign affairs expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
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Among Macron’s disruptions: Continuing to argue for the relevance of the Iran nuclear deal that Trump has withdrawn from; announcing at the end of August that Europe needed to seek a greater accommodation with Russia and China; and his “brain death comments,” made in an interview in The Economist and a reference, in part, to NATO member Turkey’s incursion into Kurdish-held Syria to root out fighters it considers terrorists but who had also been assisting U.S.-led forces battle the Islamic State group. Macron has long argued that Trump’s exit from the climate accord was a mistake. He wants the military alliance to pivot more toward fighting international terrorism.
In a further ratcheting up of tensions, as Trump arrived in London on Tuesday night the White House said it was considering imposing tariffs on up to $2.4 billion worth of French goods in response to that country’s new digital services tax targeting U.S. technology companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google.
The tariffs would affect French cheese, wines and handbags.
“(Macron) wants a real strategy discussion” about NATO, said Thomas Gomart, director of IFRI, a Paris-based international relations think tank.
“Not just to pretend that everything is OK.”
Trump has called the NATO meetings in London “one of the most important journeys that we make as president” and kicked off a series of meetings Tuesday by holding closed-door talks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
In subsequent, wide-ranging remarks to the press, including about Macron’s comments on NATO being “brain dead,” Trump said “NATO serves a great purpose.”
He also criticized France for the digital services tax, saying that “if anyone was going to tax American companies it will be me.”
Trump also addressed the prospect of signing a trade deal with China, saying he “likes the idea of waiting until after the (2020) election” for that agreement.
He described recent violent protests in Iran, in which rights group said more than 200 people were killed, as a “terrible thing.” He confirmed that he will be meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson but said he had “no thoughts” about Britain’s impending general election on Dec. 12.
Later, Trump will participate in a reception with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.
While he won’t be in Washington for Wednesday’s impeachment hearing in which the House Judiciary Committee will unveil witnesses, the inquiry has followed Trump to London.
“Just landed in the United Kingdom, heading to London for NATO meetings tomorrow. Prior to landing I read the Republicans Report on the Impeachment Hoax. Great job! Radical Left has NO CASE. Read the Transcripts. Shouldn’t even be allowed. Can we go to Supreme Court to stop?” the president tweeted after arriving at Stansted Airport outside London.
Sitting next to Stoltenberg on Tuesday, Trump said: “I did nothing wrong. You don’t censure somebody when they did nothing wrong.”