Suspense over Trump-Putin talks as leaders crowd Paris event

Russian officials say the French had been the ones to ask that no separate Trump- Putin meeting be arranged

By BLOOMBERG

PARIS • So many world leaders came to the French capital yesterday to commemorate the end of World War I that organisers 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 on 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.

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

In a symbolic display of unity, Macron led most of the leaders up a red carpet to the Arc de Triomphe under the rain yesterday. Trump and Putin arrived separately in their own motorcades and shook hands briefly at the start of the ceremony.

Trump on Saturday skipped a planned visit to a US military ceremony because of bad weather, sparking a storm of criticism for what some saw as disrespect to veterans.

The US president was also planning to skip the Peace Forum his host was organising later yesterday. Trump was scheduled to visit another military cemetery yesterday.

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

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 US approach to his country. So far, however, the tensions have only built, with the US imposing new rounds of sanctions and vowing to pull out of a Cold War disarmament treaty.

Publicly, the Kremlin has played down the possible absence of a sitdown 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 US elections.

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 that Russia had intervened in the vote over the conclusions of US intelligence triggered a wave of criticism in Washington and a push for new sanctions in Congress.

Since then, the US has sent National Security Advisor 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 yesterday in order not to distract from the solemn commemorations.

On Saturday, Macron and Merkel sat side by side as they leafed through a golden book of commemoration in a replica of the railway carriage where the Armistice was signed in a clearing of the forest of Compiegne.

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”.

Merkel said she was the first postwar German chancellor to visit the site with a French president.

“We have peace today that cannot be taken for granted and for which we have to continue to work,” she told reporters later. “So, this day isn’t just a warning, but an incentive.”