LONDON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday denounced comments by French President Emmanuel Macron that NATO was experiencing "brain death." The American leader said he could see France "breaking off" from the Western military alliance.
Macron made the comment in an interview published last month in The Economist magazine in advance of the summit marking the 70th anniversary celebrations of NATO. He was warning that members of the alliance could no longer rely on the U.S.
In comments to the press ahead of a NATO meeting in London on Tuesday, Trump said Macron's words had been "very, very nasty" to the 28 other member states. He added that it was "very insulting" for the French president to label NATO as brain dead. "You can't go around saying that about NATO," Trump added.
The U.S. president said relations between the U.S. and European NATO members were not causing any divide, with the exception of France.
"I do see France breaking off. I'm looking at him and I'm saying he (Macron) needs protection more than anybody and I see him breaking off, so I'm a little surprised at that," Trump said.
Trump has himself criticized the international body, previously describing NATO as "obsolete." And in comments just before arriving in the U.K., Trump also called out some of the alliance members as "delinquent," in an apparent reference to the amount of money that some nations spend on defense.
In 1966, France, under President Charles de Gaulle, left NATO's military structure, doubting the organization's might against any invasion from the Soviet Union. Full membership by France was restored only 10 years ago.
The U.S. leader also took a swipe at France's economy, suggesting with its high unemployment rate that the country was "not doing well economically at all." The unemployment rate in France moved higher to 8.6% in the third quarter of 2019 but has been steadily improving over the past five years.
Trump suggested France was looking to bolster its budget by introducing a digital tax on U.S. tech giants such as Facebook and Google. The president said he would now counter this move. "They are starting to tax other people's products, so we are going to tax them," Trump told the reporters.
On Monday, the White House had said it may impose duties of up to 100% on $2.4 billion in imports of French Champagne, wine, cheese and luxury goods.
In a joint press conference with Macron later Tuesday, Trump appeared to soften his tone, claiming the two countries could "work something out" on trade.