U.S. President Donald Trump, who in the past has disparaged Paris as an unsafe city because of terrorism, heading to the French capital. He will mark the French national holiday, Bastille Day, on Friday after holding counterterrorism talks with President Emmanuel Macron and marking the 100th anniversary of U.S. troops entering World War I.
Air Force One, the presidential jet, lifted off on schedule (at 7:49 p.m. EDT) Wednesday evening from Joint Base Andrews, outside the nation’s capital. First lady Melania Trump is accompanying the president on the trip to France.
Before departing the U.S., the president gave several interviews at the White House, including an extended conversation with Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network, a prominent figure in conservative political and religious circles.
In contrast to reports from U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian President Vladimir Putin intervened in last year’s U.S. elections to increase Republican Trump’s chances of victory, the president said he believes Putin had hoped Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton would win the race.
According to excerpts of the interview released Wednesday evening by CBN, the president said the Kremlin would have preferred to see Clinton win the White House, because Russian officials thought she would “decimate” the U.S. military once in power.
Watch: Trump Heads for Difficult Encounter in France
Paris ‘out of control’
A year ago Trump described Paris as “so, so, so out of control, so dangerous,” because of terrorists operating there. More recently he suggested that Islamic State attacks in Paris had diminished its standing as a world-class destination.
As he pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 international Paris accord to control greenhouse gas emissions, Trump said he was elected to represent “Pittsburgh, not Paris.” Nevertheless, he subsequently accepted President Macron’s invitation to attend the country’s annual mid-July celebrations.
During his two-day visit, Trump will meet with Macron, whose political fortunes have soared this year. The U.S. president also will lunch with military officials, tour the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte and join in Bastille Day celebrations Friday.
The two leaders are scheduled to meet Thursday before speaking to reporters.
“We will talk about all the issues which are of interest to us both, including those about which we have disagreements when we have them, but also a lot of the issues on which we are working together — the terrorism threat, the crises in Syria and Libya, and a lot of issues which are of interest to us both,” Macron said.
Syria, G-20 follow-up
A senior U.S. official told reporters the White House expects the civil war in Syria and U.S.-French cooperation both there and on other counterterror issues to take up most of the discussion, while there could also be some follow-up to last week’s G-20 summit in Germany.
France is part of the U.S.-led coalition that has been carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq since late 2014. A large majority of those strikes this year have taken place in Syria, where the militants have their de facto capital in the city of Raqqa.
Trump and Macron are both in their first year in office and have shown policy differences when it comes to international efforts to combat climate change. But they also share certain goals, such as reducing the number of workers in their respective governments.
The senior Trump administration official described the relationship between the presidents as “very positive.”
On Friday, Trump and his wife, Melania, will attend the annual Bastille Day parade, which will include both French and U.S. military personnel.
“The fact that we participated in such a major way in World War I, side by side with the French, is a clear parallel to what we’re doing today,” the senior administration official said. “We still live in a dangerous world. We still live in a world that has many, many threats.”
A French government spokesman, Christophe Castaner, said, “Sometimes Trump makes decisions we don’t like, such as on climate, but we can deal with it in two ways: we can say, ‘We are not going to talk to you,’ or we can offer you our hand to bring you back into the circle. Macron is symbolically offering Trump his hand.”