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Macron warns against nationalism in apparent rebuke of Trump at WWI commemoration

“Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism,” the French president said in remarks delivered just steps from Trump and more than 80 world leaders.
Image: Commemoration of the Centenary of the end of the First World War
First lady Melania Trump, President Donald J. Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and French First Lady Brigitte Macron at the ceremony for the Centenary of the WWI Armistice at the Arc de Triomphe, in Paris on Sunday.Benoit Tessier / EPA

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a rebuke of President Donald Trump’s “America first” approach to international affairs at a ceremony on Sunday commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

“Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism,” Macron said. “By saying, ‘Our interests first, who cares about the others,’ we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what gives it grace and what is essential: its moral values."

Macron’s remarks, which he delivered just steps from Trump and more than 80 other world leaders, come on the heels of the U.S. president proudly declaring himself a “nationalist.”

“A globalist is a person that wants the globe to do well, frankly not caring about our country so much, and you know what, we can't have that,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Houston on Oct. 22. “I'm a nationalist. OK? I'm a nationalist. Nationalist. Use that word.”

After Macron finished his remarks, Trump appeared to grimace while offering muted and delayed applause.

The White House had no immediate reaction to Macron’s ideological stand. Trump had his own platform to respond Sunday afternoon when he spoke at an American cemetery outside of Paris for fallen soldiers in both world wars, but he instead kept his remarks focused on those who died in the two conflicts.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump’s speech “will focus on honoring the Americans who fought and died in World War One and our duty to remember the sacrifices of those that came before us.”

The groundwork was laid for a clash of worldviews on the international stage this weekend even before Trump arrived in Paris on Friday night.

And Macron’s comments on Sunday were just the latest sign of tension in a relationship between the U.S. and French leaders that had previously been described as a bromance for its closeness.

Just a day earlier Trump and Macron sought to publicly smooth over a disagreement about the French leader’s push for a stronger European defense, which he said was necessary to protect the continent against not only Russia and China but also the U.S.

The pair described each other as close friends, and the U.S. president said the two are “very much similar in our views,” but that moment of public camaraderie was short-lived.

Trump had also decided to snub Macron’s peace conference focused on international cooperation, which other world leaders gathered in Paris for Armistice Day will attend.

The ceremony on Sunday morning at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe was the centerpiece of the weekend, though the program began a bit behind schedule with none of the world leaders arriving in time to together mark the precise moment at 11 a.m. when the 1918 armistice was signed.

Trump was scheduled to take his position on the platform last, but Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to steal that role. The Russian leader strolled up at 20 minutes past the hour, making for a notable entrance with all the leaders’ eyes trained on him.

Before taking his place standing alongside Macron, Putin approached Trump for a brief handshake and flashed the president a thumbs up. Putin also shook hands with first lady Melania Trump.

The question of whether Trump and Putin will have a discussion during the events in Paris has loomed over the weekend.LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP - Getty Images

No formal meeting between Trump and Putin was scheduled for Sunday. Sanders told NBC News, however, that it's likely the two would exchange “a quick hello,” possibly at the luncheon for world leaders that Macron hosted after the ceremony.

Macron’s pointed remarks could also be aimed at Putin, who has increasingly displayed Russian aggression in Europe and the U.S., where he is accused by American intelligence agencies of interfering in the 2016 presidential election to help Trump.

Trump was seated between the first lady and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during Sunday morning's ceremony, which was full of pageantry. It included a review of troops and a performance by celloist Yo-Yo Ma, as well as a moment of silence and the singing of the hymn “Last Post.”

It ended with the sound of the “ceasefire” bugle.

The president's short ride to the event featured some unexpected drama when two topless female protesters rushed toward the motorcade after breaching the barricades blocking off the sidewalk.

After the luncheon Trump visited the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial, which is home to the remains of more than 1,500 U.S. soldiers who died in World War I and 24 unknown dead from World War II.

The visit was a do-over of sorts after he scrapped a visit to an American World War I cemetery on Saturday because of inclement weather.

Trump critics pounced after he chose not to ride in a motorcade for 90 minutes to Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial in Belleau, France, on Saturday after the White House announced the weather made it unsafe for him to fly.