Suspense Over Trump-Putin Talks as Leaders Crowd Paris Event

(Bloomberg) -- So many world leaders came to the French capital Sunday to commemorate the end of World War I that organizers had to use buses to move them around. But the focus was on whether two of the 69 -- Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin -- would find time to get together amid the ceremonies.

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed the visitors to Paris on a wet Sunday morning for events at the Arc de Triomphe and the Elysee Palace. Macron and Trump said they’d patched up differences over a twitter tussle at a meeting Saturday, but the showy friendliness of their past encounters was replaced by a stiffer interaction.

For Macron, the commemoration of the 1918 Armistice that brought an end to what at its time was Europe’s deadliest war is meant to underline the importance of international cooperation, a value now questioned by Trump as well as populist leaders across Europe.

“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism,” Macron said in his speech to the other leaders. “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism.”

In a symbolic display of unity, Macron led most of the leaders up a red carpet to the Arc de Triomphe under the heavy rain. Trump, who has called himself a nationalist, arrived separately in his own motorcade, as did Putin. The two shook hands briefly at the start of the ceremony, with the Russian leader flashing a thumbs-up.

Trump on Saturday skipped a planned visit to a U.S. military ceremony because of bad weather, sparking a storm of criticism for what some saw as disrespect to veterans. The U.S. president was also planning to skip the Peace Forum his host was organizing later on Sunday. Trump is scheduled to visit another military cemetery before departing Sunday.

As the other leaders gathered in the morning, Trump tweeted about the devastating wildfires in California, criticizing local officials for poor forest management. On the way to the ceremony, topless protesters from the Femen group ran into the street toward his motorcade before being detained by police.

Personal Ties

Putin was planning to attend the Peace Forum, but there was no word yet on whether he would get the chance for the meeting with Trump that his aides had been announcing in recent weeks. The Russian president is hoping his personal ties with Trump, who regularly touts their good relationship, will at some point yield a softening of the U.S. approach to his country. So far, however, the tensions have only built, with the U.S. imposing new rounds of sanctions and vowing to pull out of a Cold War disarmament treaty.

Suspense Over Trump-Putin Talks as Leaders Crowd Paris Event

Publicly, the Kremlin has played down the possible absence of a sit-down with Trump, saying the two leaders will have time for talks in a few weeks at the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires. The White House has also been cool about bringing the two leaders together amid the political pressure in Washington over alleged Russian meddling in U.S. elections.

Suspense Over Trump-Putin Talks as Leaders Crowd Paris Event

The White House is eager to avoid a repeat of the controversy that blew up the last time they met. In Helsinki in July, Trump’s apparent acceptance of Putin’s denials Russia had intervened in the vote over the conclusions of U.S. intelligence triggered a wave of criticism in Washington and a push for new sanctions in Congress.

Since then, the U.S. has sent National Security Adviser John Bolton for two rounds of talks with Russian officials, but the only deal announced publicly was a vague agreement for the two leaders to meet again next year, possibly in Washington.

Russian officials said the French had been the ones to ask that no separate Trump-Putin meeting be arranged Sunday in order not to distract from the solemn commemorations.

Saturday, Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel toured the site of the signing of the armistice agreement 100 years ago Saturday, highlighting the importance of nations working together to ensure peace.

The president embraced the chancellor as they took part in a simple yet historic ceremony that commemorated French-German reconciliation after two devastating world wars. Solemn, with Merkel at times leaning on Macron for support, the two leaders unveiled a stone tribute in both languages marking “the value of French-German reconciliation in the service of Europe and peace.”

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