US President Donald Trump weighed into the war of words on the state of NATO on Tuesday (3 December), wasting no time to hit back at French President Emmanuel Macron’s “brain death” claims.
Speaking at a breakfast session alongside NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the US ambassador’s residence in London ahead of Wednesday’s leaders meeting, Trump said that Macron’s comments were “very insulting” and that he was “very surprised” by those remarks.
“I heard that President Macron said that NATO was brain dead. I think that is very insulting to a lot of different forces. It has a great purpose,” he told reporters in London.
In a November interview with The Economist, Macron criticised the lack of coordination between NATO members over Turkey’s recent operation in Syria. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded last week, saying Macron himself was in a “state of brain death”, causing a Franco-Turkish diplomatic spat ahead of the summit.
“Nobody needs NATO more than France,” Trump said, adding that “frankly, the one that benefits the least is the United States.”
“When France makes a statement like they did against NATO, it’s a very dangerous statement to make.”
Trump also warned Europeans “to shape up or otherwise things are going to get very tough” unless the bloc rethinks its approach to NATO and trade.
Lashing out at Paris for a digital service tax that he said unfairly discriminates against US tech companies – including Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon – Trump repeated announcements that taxes are set to rise on French products, including cheese, wine and other products, as a measure of new to-be-introduced trade tariffs.
According to senior US administration officials, Trump has been “deeply annoyed” by Macron lately and analysts told EURACTIV that Macron’s comments could actually have the ironic effect of causing Trump to speak more positively about the state of NATO in order to contradict the French president’s negativity.
But despite striking a more conciliatory tone on NATO, an organisation he has previously criticised as “obsolete”, saying it has become more “flexible” and serves “a great purpose”, Trump reiterated demands for Europeans to ramp up their defence spending.
“It’s not right to be taken advantage of on NATO and also then to be taken advantage of on trade, and that’s what happens. We can’t let that happen,” he added.
‘No thoughts’ on UK election
With Britain gripped by a highly emotional national election campaign in recent weeks, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s friendly relationship with Trump is likely to be under the spotlight during the NATO meeting.
The US president had agreed not to interfere in the general election after a plea Johnson personally made ahead of the visit. Asked to comment on the UK’s 12 December elections, Trump told reporters he had ‘no thoughts’ and vowed to stay out of the campaign as he “does not want to complicate it.”
Nevertheless, Trump spoke about his support for Brexit and again endorsed Johnson, saying he thinks “Boris is very capable and I think he’ll do a good job.”
Asked if he could work with Labour’s candidate Jeremy Corbyn in case he becomes the next prime minister, Trump said he could “work with anybody” as he is “a very easy person to work with, you wouldn’t believe it.”
Trump is set to meet with Johnson later on Tuesday after a reception hosted by the Queen in Buckingham Palace.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]