Days after visit, Trump blasts France's Macron as relations sour

By Susan Heavey and Luke Baker
U.S. President Donald Trump leaves after a meeting at the Elysee Palace with French President Emmanuel Macron on the eve of the commemoration ceremony for Armistice Day, 100 years after the end of the First World War, in Paris, France, November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

By Susan Heavey and Luke Baker

WASHINGTON/PARIS (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump attacked his French counterpart on Tuesday in a series of tweets that underscored how much the once-friendly ties between the two leaders have soured, just two days after returning from Paris.

In five posts sent on the same day that French officials marked the anniversary of the 2015 terrorist attacks that killed 130 people in Paris, Trump blasted the key U.S. ally over its near defeat to Germany in two world wars, its wine industry and Macron's approval ratings.

Trump returned to Washington from a weekend in Paris to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War One where strained relations between the American president and European allies were on full display.

On Tuesday, Trump rejected Macron's warnings against the threat of nationalism, delivered during an emotional ceremony in Paris on Sunday attended by scores of world leaders.

A stony-faced Trump, who listened a few feet away, has described himself as a nationalist and has promoted an "America First" policy.

Trump, a real estate developer and former reality television star who owns a Virginia winery, said Macron has a "low approval rating," accused France of unfair trade practices over wine and attacked the news coverage of his trip.

Trump pointed to Macron's recent comments about Europe's need to protect itself, tweeting "it was Germany in World Wars One & Two - How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for NATO or not!"

"By the way, there is no country more Nationalist than France, very proud people - and rightfully so!" Trump wrote in other tweets, ending with "MAKE FRANCE GREAT AGAIN!"

He defended his much-criticized absence from a commemoration event on Saturday, saying the U.S. Secret Service had vetoed driving to the venue because of logistics. The White House earlier had said it canceled Trump's appearance, citing poor weather that grounded a planned helicopter flight to the site.

White House Director of Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp, meanwhile, cast Trump's Paris trip in a positive light.

"It was clearly a successful trip," Schlapp told Fox News on Tuesday, saying Trump and Macron "had a productive meeting" on trade and NATO.

"He has sent a strong message to our European allies. And we have seen some changes and some positive shifts coming from our allies to pay more to NATO. We need their support," she said.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday that Trump had isolated himself at one of the weekend events by deciding not to attend the Paris Peace Forum, which Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin attended.

Trump also traveled in a motorcade to the Armistice commemoration while most other world leaders walked the last 100 meters (328 ft) or so to the ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe.

Asked on television if the United States was still a French ally, Le Drain answered yes.

Before his arrival, Trump had blasted comments that Macron made in a radio interview in which he appeared to cast the United States as a threat.

Both French officials and the White House said any misunderstandings had been cleared up after Macron and Trump held talks on Saturday.

In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis on Tuesday backed NATO.

Asked whether he supported an EU military, Mattis told reporters: "We see NATO as the cornerstone for the protection of Europe in the security realm and we fully support nations doing more to carry the load."

On Sunday, Macron delivered his hard-hitting remarks.

"Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism," he said. "When we say 'our interests come first, those of others don't matter,' we erase the very thing that a nation holds most precious, that which gives it life and makes it great: its moral values."

(Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Luke Baker in Paris; Additional reporting by Richard Lough, Makini Brice and Idrees Ali; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Cynthia Osterman)