US President Donald Trump launched a blistering attack on the French leader’s criticism of NATO strategy as “brain dead” on Tuesday, but Emmanuel Macron doubled down and turned his fire on Turkey.
The three-way battle overshadowed the build-up to the alliance’s 70th-anniversary summit in London, threatening to derail efforts to show unity in the face of Russia and China.
Macron had tried to shake up the agenda of the meeting by demanding a review of NATO strategy, but Trump — who arrived boasting that he had forced members to boost defence spending — hit back hard.
“I think that’s very insulting,” Trump said of Macron’s assertion last month that NATO is experiencing “brain death”. “Nobody needs NATO more than France,” he warned. “It’s a very dangerous statement for them to make.”
Trump later softened his tone at a joint appearance with Macron, but the French leader stood by his statement.
“The common enemy today is the terrorist groups, as we mentioned, and I’m sorry to say that we don’t have the same definition of terrorism around the table,” Macron said.
Macron and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan later came face to face at four-way talks with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Merkel said she was “relatively optimistic” after the meeting, but Macron warned that “not all clarifications were obtained and not all ambiguities were resolved”.
“There are disagreements, choices that are not the same but there is a need to move forward. I’m a pragmatist,” he said.
NATO has mooted a plan to bolster the defences of Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia against a potential attack from Russia, though details remain unclear.
Polish President Andrzej Duda played down the dispute, saying he believed “a good solution” would be found.
But he too weighed in on Macron, urging him to stop carping about NATO and come up with “concrete propositions” for how to improve the alliance.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg renewed his own criticism of the French leader’s remarks, saying allies “should never question the unity and the political willingness to stand together and to defend each other”.
Trump defended Stoltenberg, boasting that NATO members have massively increased their defence spending thanks to his pressure.
But the president then reiterated his long-standing complaints about European spending.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was open to cooperation with NATO against joint threats such as terrorism.
In a move likely to unsettle eastern European NATO allies that feel threatened by Moscow, Macron appeared receptive to the idea, calling for a “strategic dialogue” with Russia.