Emmanuel Macron has issued a thinly veiled appeal to Donald Trump to stand by the western and international institutions established after the second world war and to push for peace in the Middle East.
“America, dear President Trump, is never as great as when it fights for the liberty of others . . . as when it is faithful to the universal values championed by its founding fathers,” the French president said at a ceremony on Thursday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings at the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer in Normandy.
“We should never cease to cherish the alliance of free peoples,” Mr Macron said, before awarding Légion d’Honneur medals to five US veterans of the landings.
Mr Trump also made a speech paying tribute to the veterans and to the alliance that defeated the Nazis. The US president said: “Our bond is unbreakable.”
But Mr Trump’s frequently expressed scorn for Washington’s western allies, his rejection of international agreements reached by his predecessors and his championing of a Brexit process that damages the EU has alarmed Mr Macron and other European leaders.
Mr Trump and Mr Macron, who both took power after insurgent political campaigns that shook up the traditional parties in their respective countries, initially forged a “bromance” after Mr Macron was elected in 2017.
But relations soured last year when Mr Trump criticised French plans for a European army and mocked Mr Macron over the anti-government gilets jaunes demonstrations that swept through France from November 2018.
The two presidents also differ sharply over Mr Trump’s rejection of the Paris climate accord and his withdrawal from the international agreement to stop Iran developing nuclear weapons in exchange for economic ties with the west.
At a summit with Mr Trump in Caen, Mr Macron emphasised the strength of French-US defence ties, for example in anti-Islamist operations in Mali. He compared the wartime alliance with what France and the US were doing today “to preserve democracies and liberty, together in Africa, in the Near East and amid international crises”.
However, the two men could not hide their disagreements over how to deal with Iran. While a belligerent Mr Trump boasted about the effect of his economic sanctions — he said it was “extraordinary how powerful they’ve been” — Mr Macron emphasised the importance of new negotiations and called for “peace in the region”.
Mr Trump acknowledged past differences with Mr Macron but insisted the personal relationship and that between the US and France was now “outstanding”. He said: “It’s been good sometimes, and sometimes it hasn’t been, but right now it’s outstanding, so the relationship we’ve had together has been terrific.”
Jean-Pierre Raffarin, a former French prime minister and ally of Mr Macron, has sharply criticised Mr Trump for his approach to foreign policy, including his promotion of a hard Brexit and what Mr Raffarin called the “dismantling of Europe”.
Mr Raffarin told the Financial Times: “Allies like that are not much good . . . The meeting will be a chance for the [French] president to tell President Trump of our disappointment.”
A group of French trade unions and the far-left France Unbowed party called for a demonstration in Caen on Thursday afternoon after Mr Trump’s visit, saying that the US president represented “racism, sexism and climate denial”.
Earlier, UK prime minister Theresa May and Mr Macron laid the first stone of a memorial to the British troops at Ver-sur-Mer, above the landing site designated Gold Beach on D-Day.