President Trump called Emmanuel Macron “nasty” and “disrespectful” Tuesday over the French leader’s criticism NATO as the alliance kicked off its 70th birthday party in London.
Trump lashed out at his sometimes-pal who called the alliance “brain dead” after it allowed Turkey to invade northern Syria last month.
“I think that’s insulting to a lot of different forces,” Trump said. “You just can’t go around making statements like that about NATO. It’s very disrespectful.”
Macron was angered when Trump unilaterally pulled troops out of northern Syria last month, a move that Turkey saw as a green light for an invasion. The European Union is mired in a political crisis sparked by its inability to manage Syrian refugee arrivals, and fears that more people might flee.
Relations between the U.S. and France are also particularly strained this week over fears of a new trade war.
The U.S. Trade Representative proposed introducing tariffs on $2.4 billion in goods in retaliation for a French tax on global tech giants. Trump and Macron are due to meet on the sidelines of the summit.
Trump is also still angry over what he sees as European underpayment to NATO.
After Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, NATO countries halted their post-Cold War spending cuts and began increasing spending. They pledged to “move toward” spending 2% of GDP on their national defense budgets by 2024.
“You could make the case that they’ve been delinquent for 25-30 years,” Trump said, after talks with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. He added that the figure of 2% “is a very low number, it really should be 4.”
Stoltenberg, given the unenviable task of trying to hold NATO together as its leaders take pot shots at each other, said that “we’re doing more together, North America and Europe, than we have done in many decades.”
The spats between leaders threaten to expose a lack of unity that could undermine the military organization’s credibility.
Macron insisted ahead of the meeting that the endless spending debate should be set aside so that NATO can focus on important strategic questions like who its enemies really are, how to improve ties with Russia and what to do with an unpredictable ally like Turkey. In turn, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Macron.
Turkey raised the ire of its allies by invading northern Syria, and for buying Russian air defense systems with powerful computers aboard that suck up data and would compromise the military equipment of allies if they were stationed nearby.
Before heading to London, Erdogan suggested that Turkey might not back Poland and NATO’s Baltic allies — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — should they require defending unless the allies support Turkish concerns about Syrian Kurdish fighters, which Ankara sees as terrorists.
That threat raises new questions about NATO’s commitment to its collective defense clause — Article 5 — under which all allies vow to come to the aid of a member under attack. The clause has only ever been activated once, after the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
The very public arguments bode ill for a summit hosted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is deep into an electoral campaign and desperately wants to smooth things over.