NATO's 70th-anniversary summit has kicked off just as awkwardly as expected, with President Donald Trump attacking French President Emmanuel Macron for his “very, very nasty statement” on the group being brain-dead and complaining about the US' defense contribution.
Macron had courted controversy and criticism from NATO allies last month after telling The Economist that the defense alliance was experiencing a “brain death.”
His comments came while discussing Trump's withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria in October, which paved the way for Turkey — a NATO member — to invade to fight Kurdish forces. Macron also slammed Trump for not warning NATO of his troop pullout.
Multiple world leaders have attacked Macron for the interview, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel telling him she kept having to “glue together the cups you have broken,” and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan separately addressing him: “You should check whether you are brain-dead first.”
Trump also joined the fray on Tuesday morning, attacking Macron's “insulting” and “very, very nasty statement” while sitting next to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in a London press conference.
The US president then spiraled into a tirade against France's domestic politics, including comments on the country's unemployment rate and months-long “yellow vest” protests against Macron's pro-business economic reforms.
—Sky News (@SkyNews) December 3, 2019
“When you make a statement like that, a very very nasty statement … You have a really high unemployment rate in France. France is not doing well economically at all,” Trump said.
“It's a very tough statement to make when you have such difficulty in France,” he added. “You look at what's happening with the yellow vests … They've had a very rough year.
“You can't just go around making statements like that about NATO. It's very disrespectful.”
Trump added that “nobody needs NATO more than France,” without specifying why, and said “the one that benefits the least is the US.”
While discussing NATO's unity later in the conference, Trump also added: “I can see France breaking off.”
Trump insisted that he still had a good relationship with Macron, whom he repeatedly called “Emmanuel.” But his remarks have shown that their friendship has deteriorated dramatically since the two leaders shared lengthy handshakes and Trump picked dandruff off Macron's shoulder to prepare him for a photo.
NATO's 70th-anniversary summit this week, which takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday, will likely be an awkward affair.
Macron is proving himself increasingly unpopular among NATO allies. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also limiting his appearances with Trump this week amid fears that the US president could jeopardize his chances of winning the upcoming UK general election.
Meanwhile, Turkey is edging closer to Russia — which NATO was set up to protect the West against in 1949 — after the two countries brokered a peace deal to jointly patrol northeastern Syria, and are considering importing more defense systems.
Trump on Tuesday also ripped on France for its digital-services tax, which would affect US tech companies, and noted that the US was retaliating.
“They're starting to tax other people's products, therefore we're going to tax them — that's just taking place right now, in technology and we're doing their wines and everything else,” he said.
The US Trade Representative on Monday proposed taxes on French products, including wine and cheese, in retaliation over France's 3% tax on tech companies that was signed into law in July.
France's finance minister Bruno Le Maire on Tuesday called the new tariffs “unacceptable” and “not worthy of an ally.”
During the press conference Trump also celebrated NATO's increasing defense contributions from member states, and decreasing those by the US.
He has since his presidential campaign railed against what he perceives as the US' outsized contribution to the alliance, and on Monday claimed victory for the increase in other countries' defense spending in recent years.
However, as Business Insider's John Haltiwanger pointed out, NATO countries had actually committed to increasing their defense contributions since 2014, when former President Barack Obama was in office.