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US, French president agree on defense after row over call for European army

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US President Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with French president Emmanuel Macron prior to their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on November 10, 2018, on the sidelines of commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the 11 November 1918 armistice, ending World War I. (AFP photo)

US President Donald Trump has reportedly reached consensus with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, on the need for more European military spending despite an earlier Trump tweet that had slammed Macron’s recent call for a European army without reliance on the US as “very insulting.”

“We had a great discussion and we are aligned,” France's Elysee Palace quoted Trump as saying on Saturday following a meeting there with his host Macron during which the two discussed trade, defense, Syria as well as the persisting controversy over last month’s murder in Istanbul of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“We want a strong Europe, it’s very important to us, and whichever way we can do it the best and more efficient would be something we both want,” Trump added after the meeting which was held a day before commemoration events in France to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

“We want to help Europe but it has to be fair. Right now the burden sharing has been largely on the United States,” the US president further emphasized.

US President Donald Trump (L) speaks with French president Emmanuel Macron prior to their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on November 10, 2018.  (Photo by AFP)

This is while the French president also echoed such sentiments, insisting that he wanted Europe to bear a greater share of the defense costs within the US-led NATO military alliance, a point Macron has repeatedly made since taking office, together with his ambitions to establish Europe’s own military capability.

 “That’s why I do believe my proposals for European defense are totally consistent with that,” Macron further underlined despite his recent remarks in which he appeared to regard the US as a threat.

Discussing the growing dangers from cyber-hacking, alleged meddling in electoral processes as well as Washington’s decision to withdraw from a key arms-control treaty with Russia, Macron emphasized during a radio interview last week that Europe needed to protect itself against China, Russia “and even the United States.”

Pointing to a need for a European army, he added: “Faced by Russia, which is on our borders and which has shown that it can be threatening... we need to have a Europe that can better defend itself by itself, without depending solely on the United States.”

Trump then slammed Macron’s remarks in a tweet message just prior to landing in Paris, stating: “Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the US subsidizes greatly.”

However, the Elysee described the harsh exchange of remarks by Macron and Trump as a “misunderstanding” caused by what it referred to as “exaggerated” US press reports. It further underlined that the confusion was cleared up during more than an hour of “substantial” and “very constructive” talks.

According to local press reports, while the talks between the two leaders covered trade and foreign policy issues, it was not clear if they also discussed European worries regarding Trump’s plans to abandon the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Agreement (INF), signed with Russia in 1986.

Macron insisted during his Europe 1 radio interview last week that the “main victim” of the US withdrawal from the INF treaty was Europe and its security.

Moreover, the French president -- who also tried but failed to talk Trump out of withdrawing from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal earlier this year -- has also raised concerns about the impact of the US-led sanctions on European companies doing business with Iran.

Meanwhile, the US president may also speak briefly with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Sunday, when the two are among the 70 world leaders set to gather at the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris. Trump and Putin are further expected to hold formal talks later this month when both attend a G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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