Trump Had a Week of Uncomfortable Conversations With European Leaders



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President Donald Trump, with his open contempt for institutions like NATO and the EU and skepticism about the value of longtime U.S. alliances, isn’t exactly known for thriving relationships with his counterparts in Europe. His rapport with European leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron has generally soured over the course of his presidency. So coming together for a three-day state visit to the U.K. and Ireland ahead of the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion posed a challenge as the president embarked on tour marked with pageantry and pomp-and a few instances of controversy. Here’s a look at Trump’s week of awkward encounters:


Trump’s first stops on his state visit to the U.K. were with members of the British Royal Family. But the president had already caused controversy before he ever even touched down on the British Isles, saying in an interview with a British tabloid that the Duchess of Sussex-the former Meghan Markle- was “nasty” toward him and on Twitter that London Mayor Sadiq Khan was a “stone cold loser.”

Trump on Tuesday had what could be his last meeting with lame-duck U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, who is likely to step down as prime minister before the end of July. Trump gave May a figurative pat on the back on her way out the door-praising her more highly than he has in the past, saying she has done a “very good job” on Brexit negotiations and that “she’s probably a better negotiator than I am.” The two never had a particularly warm relationship, with Trump frequently criticizing her in the past for how she’s handled Brexit. Amid a leadership battle over who will replace May, Trump praised her conservative rival Boris Johnson, who apparently declined a requested meeting with the president. Another candidate, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, also received praise from Trump.

Offering a somewhat unintentional hint at how difficult securing a U.S.-U.K. free trade agreement could actually be, Trump told reporters during the joint press conference with May that everything-including the popular British public health program the National Health System-should be “on the table” during trade negotiations with the U.S. But that only came after May had to explain to Trump away from the mic what “NHS” stood for after a reporter posed the question and Trump either couldn’t hear or wasn’t aware of the acronym.


After his visit to the U.K., Air Force One landed in Ireland on Wednesday where Trump met Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at Shannon airport. (Varadkar and his staff reportedly turned down a request from the administration to hold the meeting at a Trump-owned golf course on Ireland’s Atlantic coast.) Trump’s visit with Varadkar only became more awkward later when-sitting next to an obviously uncomfortable Varadkar-Trump likened Ireland’s post-Brexit border with Northern Ireland to his proposed border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I think it will all work out very well, and also for you with your wall, your border,” Trump said. The Irish premier quickly interjected with what has been longstanding policy of the Irish government-that is wishes to avoid a border or a wall with Northern Ireland, which is a separate country that is part of the U.K. After Trump left, Varadkar later told the press that he explained the history of the Irish border during a tête-à-tête with Trump. He also said the two discussed trade, visas and other effects Brexit could have on the Republic of Ireland.


Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron’s vacillating and complicated relationship was on full display in France Thursday. Initially described as having a “bromance,” the two’s relationship soured after they diverged on issues like climate change and the Iran nuclear deal. While the two have taken jabs at each other in the past, Trump and Macron’s brief meeting in France after D-Day commemoration events was tame-perhaps it could be expected since the backdrop was near the beaches of Normandy and the graves of American soldiers.

But their differences remained apparent even as the two tried to downplay their disagreements over the Iran deal. Macron and Trump said only that they have the same objective when it comes to Iran, ignoring the fact that the two have seriously different ideas of how to get to that objective. Macron has supported the Obama-era pact that Trump pulled the U.S. out of last year. The French president did call for new negotiations to extend the deal.


Just a week after German Chancellor Angela Merkel took veiled swipes at Trump’s trade policy and his worldview while speaking to graduates at Harvard, the chancellor met Trump again in Portsmouth, England, for D-Day events. During her speech at Harvard, she told students to “tear down walls” and to avoid treating “lies as truth.” She never mentioned Trump’s name, but the target was clear. As their relationship too has gone downhill over Trump’s tenure, there was much focus on their body language during this week’s meetings.

You can always count on Angela to express what everyone else is thinking.

– ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) June 5, 2019

Ahead of a short one-on-one, the two walked in together Wednesday but sat silently in front of press cameras. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the two discussed the situation in Libya and in West Africa during their private talk.