By Agence France-Presse
US President Donald Trump is set to snub a peace conference organised by French President Emmanuel Macron this weekend as part of World War I commemorations in Paris, organizers said Thursday.
Trump is due in the French capital along with around 70 other leaders for a ceremony on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday morning to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the war.
Many of the invitees, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Germany’s Angela Merkel, are then expected to attend the opening of the inaugural Paris Peace Forum, which Macron will host.
Ending uncertainty about whether the US leader would participate, chief organizer Justin Vaisse confirmed to AFP on Thursday that Trump did not plan to attend.
In an interview earlier this week, Vaisse had played down the importance of his presence and said the Forum was part of Macron’s efforts to organize a “fightback” against the threat of rising nationalism.
“The aim of the forum is to show that there are lots of forces in the international system — states, NGOs, foundations, intellectuals, companies — who believe we need a world of rules, an open world and a multilateral world,” he said.
“This world needs to meet up and defend itself,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if those who don’t believe in multilateralism aren’t there.”
Macron has been an outspoken critic of Trump’s “America First” policies and of his decisions to pull out of international agreements such as the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal and most recently a nuclear arms treaty.
While the two leaders struck up a warm relationship initially, particularly during Trump’s first visit to Paris as president in July 2017, their ties have cooled recently amid a growing list of disagreements, diplomats say.
Trump and Macron are to hold talks Saturday at the Elysee Palace, the French president’s official residence, French officials said.
‘Contrary to his agenda
Macron, a pro-EU centrist elected last year, has used the WWI commemorations to issue a series of warnings about the rise of nationalism across the world — embodied by Trump — and has likened it to “leprosy”.
“I am struck by similarities between the times we live in and those of between the two world wars,” he told a French newspaper earlier this month.
The 40-year-old hopes the three-day forum will become an annual gathering of political leaders and civil society groups to discuss democracy — along the same lines as the Davos meeting in Switzerland, which is devoted to economics.
It will be opened on Sunday afternoon by Macron, who will then symbolically hand the floor to German leader Merkel and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres who are set to deliver the opening addresses.
“The Forum will send the message: this is not only about commemorations. This is about learning the lessons of the past and preparing for the future,” said former French ambassador Michel Duclos from the Paris-based Montaigne Institute think-tank.
With its workshops and roundtable discussions devoted to global governance, climate change or internet regulation, it is not hard to see why Trump, who has consistently attacked international institutions, decided to skip it.
“It’s completely contrary to his agenda,” said Jeremy Shapiro, research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, told AFP. “And he doesn’t like conferences.”
Shapiro, who will moderate a discussion on philanthropy at the Forum, said he expected the mood to be downbeat following recent electoral developments that have seen Brazil turn to a far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro.
“My mood is pretty grim,” he said, adding that part of the problem was that Macron and Merkel, the biggest counterforces internationally to right-wing nationalism, were both weakened figures.
“Macron has fallen in the polls and doesn’t look quite as shiny and new as he did a year ago,” Shapiro said. “Obviously Merkel has had similar problems, but at a different point in her political career.”
The German chancellor has been weakened by her announcement last month that she would not seek re-election and would relinquish her role as head of her center-right CDU party after 18 years.
The Forum “is obviously pushing against the tide and it’s all the more admirable for that,” he added.