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PARIS – After French President Emmanuel Macron said Europe needs to defend itself from the United States, aides said he was misunderstood.
But the idea isn't so far-fetched.
Macron is leading a rearguard action to salvage the system of international cooperation the U.S. helped build, but which President Donald Trump has chipped away at since taking office.
While Trump came all the way to Paris for commemorations marking 100 years since the armistice that ended World War I, he's skipping an international peace forum that Macron is launching Sunday.
The forum is part of Macron's efforts to defend the idea that nations need to work together instead of at each other's expense. But without the leader of the world's only remaining superpower, the forum will lose some of its sense.
Europe feels deeply threatened, meanwhile, by Trump's declared plan to pull the U.S. out a nuclear treaty with Russia that Europeans see as a cornerstone of post-Cold War peace and their own security. The U.S. says Russia is violating it anyway.
The tension overshadowed the two presidents' latest meeting Saturday at the French presidential palace. A French official present at the meeting said Macron made the point that in making decisions about treaties like the one Trump said he would abandon, the U.S. "should not forget something under your nose, which is European allies."
Most Americans have never heard of the treaty that's being scrapped, but it has a clear meaning for European policymakers. The 1987 Intermediary-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty grew out of years of friction over a Soviet nuclear buildup and a threatened retaliatory U.S. missile deployment in Europe.
Macron has warned that if the treaty is scrapped and Russia resumes building the kind of missiles it banned, the weapons could easily reach European targets — but not the U.S.
Another sore point for Macron and Trump: the question of a joint European army, which Macron has championed but which could overlap with the U.S.-led NATO alliance.
Macron said in an interview this week with Europe-1 radio that when it comes to the cyber-sphere and the threat to pull out of nuclear treaties, "We should protect ourselves when it comes to China, Russia and even the United States."
Later in the interview, the French leader talked about a European army. Trump lumped the two topics together and tweeted as Air Force One landed in Paris on Friday night that it was "insulting" Macron wanted an army to defend Europe from the U.S.
Trump's tweet was especially wounding to Macron, one of the strongest U.S. allies in Europe.
The idea that Macron would see the United States as an adversary "is totally against our alliance and our 250-year history. France and the U.S. have been side by side," another French official said, evoking World War I battlefields where U.S. and French soldiers fought on the same side and the nations' joint operation against Syria earlier this year.
When Macron first took power, he expressed hope that he might be able to have a restraining influence on Trump, then newly elected like him.
But by pulling the United States out of a climate-change deal signed in Paris and other international deals that France embraces — and now, with his undiplomatic tweet before meeting Macron — Trump has made clear that the French leader is not holding the reins.
Macron and his aides scrambled Saturday to clarify what the president views as the threats Europe faces today. Among them: Russia's political meddling and military buildup, as well as a sense that Trump is abandoning U.S. commitments to European allies.
Macron pointed out that he pledged to boost France's military spending even before Trump upbraided NATO members last year for not paying enough for their own defense.
The tense exchange with Trump is just the latest challenge for Macron, who was seen as a bulwark against rising European nationalism when he was elected a year ago.
The pro-business, pro-EU president is increasingly weakened domestically for unpopular economic policies and isolated in Europe, where nationalist groups have gained ground.
For more information on World War I, go to The Associated Press' WWI hub: https://www.apnews.com/WorldWarI
World War I: An AP Centennial Commemorative Edition. Available now exclusively at Amazon: https://amzn.to/2JGrx5U