PARIS — They shook hands politely and patted each other on the arm stiffly. Their tight-lipped smiles appeared strained and forced. No cheeks were kissed, no friendly rubs were given, none of the bonhomie of their earlier meetings was on display.
So much for the bromance.
After a promising start, the relationship between President Trump and President Emmanuel Macron of France has soured. By the time they met in Paris on Saturday, the trans-Atlantic alliance that was to be showcased by this weekend’s commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I appeared to be fraying instead.
“The honeymoon is well and truly over,” said Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Trump’s visible contempt for allies over trade and the Iran nuclear deal are humiliating for Macron. There were high hopes of Macron’s charm offensive, but Trump’s actions have shown that it had no policy impact and that it is dangerous for any political leader to tie his reputation to the mercurial mood swings of the American president.”
It did not help on Saturday that Mr. Trump canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery at the foot of the hill where the Battle of Belleau Wood was fought. Aides cited the rain; the Marines who pilot presidential helicopters often recommend against flying in bad weather. But that did not convince many in Europe who saw it as an excuse and another sign of disrespect.
“They died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate @realDonaldTrump couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to The Fallen,” Nicholas Soames, a Conservative member of the British Parliament and grandson of Winston Churchill, wrote on Twitter. He added the hashtag: #hesnotfittorepresenthisgreatcountry.
Ben Rhodes, who was deputy national security adviser to President Barack Obama, dismissed the explanation. “I helped plan all of President Obama’s trips for 8 years,” he tweeted. “There is always a rain option. Always.”
Mr. Trump will have another chance to pay respects to the war dead on Sunday with a scheduled visit to the Suresnes American Cemetery outside Paris following the ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe marking the anniversary of the armistice at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. But he will not stay for a Paris peace forum that Mr. Macron is sponsoring to bring together world leaders to discuss ways to avoid conflict.
“Trump’s absence from the Peace forum tomorrow, apparently alone among the 72 heads of state and government, will have a negative impact — the man who did not even pretend to work for peace, as it were,” said François Heisbourg, chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a research organization.
In a five-minute session with reporters before their meeting on Saturday, Mr. Trump and Mr. Macron sought to defuse simmering tension over security and trade. Mr. Macron reassured his visitor that his proposal to create a “true European army” was in harmony with Mr. Trump’s repeated insistence that Europe stop relying so much on the United States for its defense.
A 100-Year Legacy of World War I
World War I demolished empires and destroyed kings, kaisers and sultans. It introduced chemical weapons and aerial bombing. It brought women into the work force and hastened their legal right to vote.
“I do share President Trump’s views that we need much better burden-sharing within NATO, and that’s why I do believe my proposals for European defense are utterly consistent with that,” Mr. Macron said with Mr. Trump at the Élysée Palace.
Mr. Trump, who had called the idea of a European army “very insulting” in a tweet three minutes after Air Force One landed in France on Friday, said he was glad to hear Mr. Macron’s reasoning. “He understands the United States can only do so much, in fairness to the United States,” Mr. Trump said.
The flap may have resulted from misleading accounts of Mr. Macron’s comments, which came in an interview in French with Europe 1 radio this week. In the interview, Mr. Macron said that Europe needed to defend itself against the United States as well as Russia and China, but he was referring to cyberthreats, not the American government. The discussion of a European army actually came up later in the interview, and he characterized it as lightening America’s burden, not defending against it.
Still, Mr. Macron was critical in the interview of Mr. Trump’s move to scrap the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, a three-decade-old agreement that eliminated a whole class of missiles stationed in and aimed at Europe. The United States has accused Russia of violating the treaty and Mr. Trump seems focused on whether such missiles might be useful in countering China, but European leaders see it as reopening a threat to their own countries.
“When I see President Trump announcing that he’s quitting a major disarmament treaty, which was formed after the 1980s euro-missile crisis that hit Europe, who is the main victim?” Mr. Macron said in the interview. “Europe and its security.”
The tense meeting with Mr. Trump contrasted with Mr. Macron’s joint appearance with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany later in the day. At a solemn ceremony in the woods outside the northern town of Compiègne where the armistice was signed on Nov. 11, 1918, the two leaders stood in front of a plaque celebrating peace and Franco-German friendship.
It was the first time a German leader had returned to the spot where both World War I and World War II armistices were concluded. After conquering France in 1940, Adolf Hitler forced the defeated French to return the same railway car used in 1918 to consecrate Germany’s defeat, a way of humiliating his vanquished foe.
On Saturday, Mr. Macron and Ms. Merkel entered a similar car that now sits inside a museum at the site and sat glumly side by side for a few moments. The original car was destroyed during the second war and much at the site razed on Hitler’s orders. The ceremony, simple yet symbolic, was over in 45 minutes, after the French and German national anthems were sung.
“The symbolism of it is, it’s not just a question of military victory, or military defeat, but of friendship between France and Germany, and also that both sides have overcome this defeat,” said Sylvain Fort, a top aide to Mr. Macron. “We’ve overcome this defeat to build a friendship that’s lasted 70 years.”
The meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Macron earlier in the day seemed decidedly chillier than their warm session in Washington in April when they smiled broadly, hugged, kissed each other on the cheeks and lavished praise on each other. During their short appearance before reporters, Mr. Trump remained formal and distant. When he avoided sharp language in front of the cameras, Mr. Macron appeared relieved and patted Mr. Trump’s leg appreciatively.
President Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany laid a wreath at a solemn ceremony in the woods outside the northern town of Compiègne, France, where the armistice was signed on Nov. 11, 1918.CreditEtienne Laurent/EPA, via Shutterstock
“We have become very good friends over the last couple of years,” Mr. Trump said, with none of the enthusiasm of last spring. “We have much in common in many ways — perhaps more ways than people would understand. But we are — we’re very much similar in our views.”
Mr. Macron referred to Mr. Trump as “my good friend” and said they had “worked very closely together” in countering Syria’s use of chemical weapons. “Our people are very proud to have you here,’’ he said.
A major point of contention is Mr. Trump’s decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran following his withdrawal from the multinational accord intended to curb the country’s nuclear program. The French want to continue doing business with Iran and resent pressure by the Americans.
The Trump administration waived the sanctions for eight countries, but France was not among them. One of Mr. Macron’s senior advisers complained about bullying by Washington earlier this week. “Europe refuses to allow the U.S. to be the trade policeman of the world,” Bruno Le Maire, the economy minister, told The Financial Times.
The two sides remain at odds over broader trade issues as well. Mr. Trump has slapped steel and aluminum tariffs on Europe and other trading partners, and has threatened tariffs on cars manufactured in Europe.
Mr. Trump said negotiations to ease the tariff war have been promising. “We’ve made a lot of progress,” he said. “We’ll see if we can get it over the line, as they say.”
Mr. Trump remains deeply unpopular in Europe, especially in France, where just 9 percent think he will do the right thing in international relations, according to the Pew Research Center. The president’s seeming indifference to European sensibilities was reinforced by a report in Le Monde, the French newspaper, that in a meeting with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania earlier this year, Mr. Trump confused the Baltic states for Balkan states and blamed them for the war in Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Mr. Macron understands the importance of maintaining the relationship, said Karen Donfried, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. But “domestically,” she said, “it may be better for him if the bromance has cooled visibly.”
Charles A. Kupchan, a former Europe adviser to Mr. Obama, said that Europe has all but given up on Mr. Trump and is focused instead on developing its own “strategic autonomy” to make it less dependent on the United States.
“Trump might be able to retain decent working relationships with populist governments in Italy, Poland, and Hungary,” he said. “But the rest of Europe is resigned to running out the clock, hoping and praying that Trump is a one-term president.”