Trump And Macron Go Back And Forth With Each Other On Big Issues

Dec 3, 2019
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NOEL KING, HOST:

President Trump and France's President Emmanuel Macron went after each other today during a press conference in London. The two leaders were talking on the sidelines of the NATO meeting. They went back and forth about a bunch of things - Turkey's role in NATO, the fight against ISIS, the nature of the European Union and even some taxes that France has levied on American tech companies, including Facebook and Google. NPR's Frank Langfitt is in London. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.

KING: So in an ideal world, these NATO meetings are supposed to emphasize unity.

LANGFITT: (Laughter).

KING: But this press conference was something else, wasn't it?

LANGFITT: It was. There was not a lot of unity, and there were a lot of disagreements. But I guess what was kind of refreshing is, instead of these sorts of stage-managed things that we often hear, this was a lot more straightforward. And you really got a sense of the genuine differences that these two leaders have.

KING: Let's talk about some of those differences. One of the big topics of conversation at this NATO meeting is what to do about Turkey. Macron and Trump went back and forth on that, right?

LANGFITT: They did. I mean, Macron was very direct, and I think you just don't see this that often, especially the way people - other leaders try to manage President Trump. And what Macron really wants to talk is - what is the nature of this relationship that Turkey has? One is Turkey has bought Russian missiles, and this makes no sense given that NATO was set up in the beginning to basically be a bulwark against the Soviet Union after World War II, and Russia is continuing to threaten parts of, certainly, the Eastern flank of the NATO countries.

And so he said, what's the nature of this? And President Trump came to their defense saying, oh, well, Obama wouldn't sell them these missiles. And Macron said, no, that's not the case at all. And he also said that what frustrated him about Turkey is Turkey was saying at this meeting it's not going to support any important NATO policies unless NATO defines as terrorism the YPG - these are Kurdish forces with whom the U.S. fought against ISIS. And so he said, you know, what is the nature of this relationship we have with them?

KING: We spoke earlier today to the United States ambassador to NATO, and we asked her - you know, Turkey says it's not going to sign on to NATO policies unless NATO says the YPG are terrorists; will NATO do that? Will NATO basically acquiesce to what Turkey says? And she said, no, NATO will not. The two men, Trump and Macron, had an exchange over the future of ISIS fighters from Europe.

LANGFITT: (Laughter).

KING: This was fairly arch. Can you describe what happened?

LANGFITT: Yeah, it was really interesting. You know, President Trump, when it comes to NATO and a lot of things in global affairs, he feels like the United States always bears too much of a burden. And so what he said is a lot of these ISIS fighters, they came from Europe, and you need to take them back. And he said in his sort of sarcastic way, as he does sometimes, would you like some nice ISIS fighters? You could have as many as you want, saying to Macron.

And Macron said - you know, basically said, this isn't a joke. We haven't even defeated ISIS, and we need to really focus on the big issues, and not so much - the problem isn't foreign fighters who are left there, who are in prisons; the problem is ISIS hasn't been defeated yet. So a very direct, very honest exchange, and you could hear the different priorities that the two leaders have.

KING: They also had a back-and-forth about taxes, about a French plan to tax some U.S. tech companies, yeah.

LANGFITT: As they have in the past. And what President Trump was saying is, if you're going to go after - it was very interesting. He said, if you're going to tax our big tech companies - which he doesn't really like that much, anyway, as companies - he said, we want to tax them; we don't want you to tax them, and if you do that, we will tax more of your products.

And then he talked about the European Union, and he complained about the European Union and said it was, quote, "formed to take advantage of the United States," which is not actually true at all. It was actually designed to prevent a third world war in Europe, and it's been successful. And yes, it gives Europe trade leverage against other big economies, like the United States and China, but that's not the purpose at all.

KING: NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Frank, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.