Trump turns diplomatic after blasting Macron over 'very nasty' NATO comments ahead of summit

Trump took a softer tone when the two leaders held an afternoon photo op.

ByJordyn Phelps and Liz Alesse
December 3, 2019, 11:00 AM

LONDON -- After hurling some harsh words at French President Emanuel Macron earlier Tuesday, President Donald Trump struck a decidedly softer tone while seated beside his French counterpart at an afternoon photo op ahead of the NATO summit in London.

Trump downplayed the bubbling trade dispute between the two countries as “minor” and predicted things will “rosy” again soon.

“We do a lot of trade with France and we have a minor dispute,” President Trump said. “I think we’ll probably be able to work it out. But we have a big trade relationship, and I’m sure that within a short period of time, things will be looking very rosy, we hope, that’s usually the case with the two of us, we work it out.”

The president’s diplomatic tone on the issue comes after the U.S. Monday night threatened $2.4 billion in tariffs on French goods in retaliation of France’s taxes that hit U.S. tech companies.

Trump did not repeat his previous comment calling Macron’s critique of NATO “very,very nasty” and an "insulting statement" but President Macron, for his part, said he stands by his critique of NATO as experiencing “brain death.”

France's President Emmanuel Macron and President Donald Trump meet, ahead of the NATO summit in Watford, in London, Dec. 3, 2019.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Trump earlier repeated his complaints that some NATO nations weren't paying their "fair share."

“My statement created some reactions,” Macron said. “I do stand by … When you look at what NATO is and should be, first of all, this is a burden-share, and President Trump just reminded you of some figures, that the U.S. over invested decade after decade, it was number one by far.”

The president then thanked Macron for his comments in recognition of U.S. payments.

“I appreciate you saying the United States for decades had been paying way, way disproportionately too much for NATO and you have other countries paying far too little that are directly benefited by it,” Trump said.

In an exchange that showed there was perhaps more tension under the surface regarding the fight against ISIS, Trump offered to send some of the “tremendous amount of captured fighters” to France, claiming “they're mostly from Europe.”

“Would you like some nice ISIS fighters? I can give them to you,” Trump said.

But the French President wasn’t having it.

“Let’s be serious,” Macron replied, going on to offer a response in which he talked about the need to finish the fight against ISIS.

“And that’s why he’s a great politician, that was one of the best non-answers I’ve ever heard,” Trump then replied.

Earlier, Trump was tougher on Macron when he spoke to reporters during an appearance with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the U.S. ambassador's residence in London, ahead of a summit commemorating the 70th anniversary of the transatlantic alliance.

“You can’t just go around making statements like that about NATO, it’s very disrespectful,” Trump said, despite his having once called NATO “obsolete.”

“Nobody needs [NATO] more than France,” Trump said, “if you just look back over the last long period of time,” in an apparent reference to World War I and World War II.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg at Winfield House in London, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Evan Vucci/AP

“I’m not in love with those companies,” he said. “If anybody is going to take advantage of our companies it’s going to be us,” he said.

France has threatened a forceful response if the Trump administration follows through on a proposal to hit the country's cheese, Champagne, handbags and other products with tariffs of up to 100%.

Last month, in an interview with The Economist magazine, Macron had urged NATO to “wake up,” warning that member states were failing to cooperate on key issues and calling into question the future of the alliance.

President Trump has repeatedly chastised NATO allies for not contributing enough financially to the alliance.

All 29 NATO member states have committed to increase their defense spending to 2% of GDP by 2024, but NATO data estimates that only seven members -- including the U.S. -- are estimated to meet the spending target this year.

During the freewheeling appearance with Stoltentberg, Trump also touched on a number of other topics, including the ongoing impeachment inquiry in Washington.

Responding to the suggestion that the probe may overshadow his visit, he said: “Does it cast a cloud? If it does, then the Democrats have done a great disservice to the country.”

The president took a diplomatic approach when questioned about the general election in the summit’s host country, Britain, due to take place Dec. 12. “I stay out of it,” he said, adding that he could “work with anybody,” who came to power after the vote.

Trump has in the past been a vocal support of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, once dubbing him “Britain's Trump,” and has criticized opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, saying he would be “so bad” for the country.

ABC News' Mark Hanrahan contributed to this report.

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