US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., en route to Paris, Friday Nov. 9, 2018, where they will participate in World War I commemorations. (Photo: AP)
US President Donald Trump is shifting his postelection focus with a weekend trip to Paris, joining an international commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.
Trump was to arrive later Friday in France, days after Americans delivered a split referendum on his presidency in the midterm congressional election, keeping the Senate in his party’s control but ceding the House to opposition Democrats.
Trump planned to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron for talks on topics expected to include European security, Syria and Iran. For Sunday’s anniversary, he was to join world leaders at a ceremony in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe.
“It should be a very beautiful period of time, the 100th anniversary of the ending of World War I. We have many countries — the leadership from many countries will be there, especially since they heard the United States will be there. And we look forward to that,” Trump told reporters Friday before leaving the White House. “I’ve seen what they have planned, and I think it’s going to be something very, very special.”
Trump originally wanted to celebrate Veterans Day on Sunday with a grand military parade in Washington, as he was inspired by the tanks and flyovers he saw during France’s Bastille Day celebration when he visited Paris in July of last year. Trump ordered the Pentagon to come up with plans for his own version, but they were eventually scrapped over concerns about costs and the damage tanks weighing many tons would do to the streets in Washington.
The president and first lady Melania Trump were expected to visit several memorial sites in France that are dedicated to American service members. Not on Trump’s schedule, despite earlier discussions about the possibility, was an extended meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I don’t know that we’re seeing each other in Paris, but we may,” Trump said. “There may be a lunch for the leaders.”
The White House and the Kremlin had previously considered a formal meeting in Paris. That now seems more likely for later this month, when they attend the Group of 20 summit of international leaders in Argentina.
Trump and Putin have met previously on the sidelines of two summits and had their own bilateral meeting in July in Helsinki. At that meeting, Trump would not say whether he believed Putin or US intelligence agencies about their conclusions about Russia’s interference with the 2016 presidential election.
Trump’s brief visit to Europe comes amid uncertainty about the US relationship with the continent. Trump has railed against trade deals with the European Union and has criticized some EU nations, including France, for not spending enough to defense to sustain NATO, the decades-old Western alliance formed as a bulwark to Moscow’s aggression.
Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said Friday in Paris that the US was concerned about stability in Europe and that Trump was not shirking from global engagement. “I think the enduring lesson (of World War I) for the United States is that when you become a global power ... you have global interests to protect,” Bolton said. “Great world leaders,” he said, are “driven by national interests.”