PARIS — President Trump and President Emmanuel Macron of France sought to defuse simmering tension over security and trade on Saturday as they opened a weekend visit intended to showcase a century-old trans-Atlantic alliance at a time when it appears to be increasingly fraying.
Meeting in advance of a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, 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.
“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 his side at the Élysée Palace.
Mr. Trump, who had called the idea of a European army “insulting,” said he was glad to hear the French president’s explanation. “He understands the United States can only do so much, in fairness to the United States,” Mr. Trump said.
The friction on Saturday underscored how much the once-budding relationship between the two men has soured in recent months. Mr. Macron welcomed Mr. Trump to the presidential palace on a drizzly, dreary day that matched the mood of the moment.
Their encounter 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.
On Saturday morning, the two patted each other’s arms politely and flashed perfunctory thumbs up for cameras, but the tight-lipped smiles appeared strained and forced. During their short, subsequent appearance before reporters, Mr. Trump remained formal and distant. When he avoided sharp language during the five minutes that cameras were present, Mr. Macron appeared relieved and patted Mr. Trump’s leg appreciatively.
“We have become very good friends over the last couple of years,” Mr. Trump said, though without 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.
The visit got off to a testy start on Friday when Mr. Trump posted a provocative message on Twitter assailing Mr. Macron just three minutes after Air Force One touched down at Orly Airport outside Paris.
Responding to reports this week that Mr. Macron had suggested that Europe needed to form its own army to defend itself against Russia, China and even the United States, Mr. Trump wrote: “Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly!”
The flap may have resulted from misleading accounts of Mr. Macron’s comments, which came in an interview in French with Europe 1 radio. When Mr. Macron said that Europe needed to defend itself against the United States as well as Russia and China, he was referring to cyber threats, not the American government. The discussion of a European army actually came up later in the interview and he characterized it as taking some of the burden from the United States, not to defend 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’s interest seems to be 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.”
Another 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 to do business with Iran and resent being put under pressure by the Americans.
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.
The Trump administration made exceptions from its sanctions for eight countries, but the European Union was not exempted. One of Mr. Macron’s senior advisers complained about bullying by Washington. “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 hugely unpopular in France, where just 9 percent of people have confidence in him to do the right thing in international affairs, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. Mr. Macron, after making efforts to cozy up to Mr. Trump, has in the last several months shown signs of distancing himself.
In recent days, Mr. Macron has been warning about the dangers of nationalism, drawing historical comparisons to the forces that devastated Europe in the 20th century. “I’m struck by the resemblance between the moment we’re now living and the period between the world wars,” Mr. Macron said.
By contrast, Mr. Trump during the fall midterm election campaign proudly adopted the “nationalist” label for himself.
Mr. Trump is set to spend just about 48 hours on the ground but will have the chance at several events hosted by Mr. Macron to interact with other world leaders, including potentially President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
Mr. Trump canceled plans on Saturday to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery at the foot of the hill where the Battle of Belleau Wood was fought, citing bad weather that would make flying by helicopter problematic. He is scheduled to attend a dinner hosted by Mr. Macron.
At a solemn ceremony in the woods outside the northern town of Compiègne where the armistice was signed on Nov. 11, 1918, Mr. Macron and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, 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 the World War I and World War II armistices were concluded, Hitler having forced the defeated French to the return to the same railway car used in 1918 for the signing.
On Saturday, Mr. Macron and Ms. Merkel entered the similar car that now sits inside a museum at the site, and sat glumly side by side for a few moments. The original was destroyed during the 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.”
On Sunday, about 70 world leaders will gather for a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe commemorating the armistice that ended World War I at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Afterward, they will have lunch and then head to the Suresnes American Cemetery outside Paris.
Mr. Trump will leave for home in the afternoon, skipping
the Paris Peace Forum. That gathering is being inaugurated by Mr. Macron to bring together governments and private organizations to improve international coordination and find ways to avoid the sort of tensions that led to World War I and other conflicts.
“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.
Many in Paris were watching to see whether Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin talk. Mr. Trump last month sent his national security adviser, John R. Bolton, to Moscow to arrange for a meeting between the two leaders while in Paris, but since then the two sides have issued confusing and conflicting accounts of whether they will talk or not.
No official meeting is scheduled and the two sides now say they will wait for a more formal session during an international summit meeting in Buenos Aires, later this month. But the two will be in the same room together for this weekend’s events and could speak informally.