President Donald Trump, a leader who has proudly declared himself a “nationalist” and advocated an “America First” approach, joined dozens of other world leaders Sunday at a ceremony focused on international cooperation to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
Trump was among more than five dozen leaders gathered on a rainy day at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the base of the Arc de Triomphe a century after guns fell silent in a global war that killed millions. Bells tolled across Europe’s Western Front and fighter jets passed overhead to mark the exact moment the devastating war came to a close.
The president and first lady Melania Trump traveled separately from most of the other presidents and dignitaries, who had gathered earlier at the Elysee Palace and traveled to the ceremony by bus. And Trump was not present as the other leaders arrived, walking side-by-side in a somber, rain-soaked line holding black umbrellas as bells finished tolling. They had arrived a few minutes late, missing the exact moment — 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918 — that four years of fighting ended.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders cited security protocols for the presidential motorcade’s solo trip to the arc down the grand Champs-Élysées, which was closed to traffic. But at least one topless woman breached tight security, running into the street and shouting “fake peace maker” as the cars passed. She had slogans, including the words “Fake” and “Peace,” written on her chest.
Police tackled the woman and the motorcade continued uninterrupted. The feminist activist group Femen later claimed responsibility.
The ceremony included a speech by French President Emmanuel Macron aimed directly at the rising tide of populism in the United States and Europe.
With Trump and other leaders looking on, Macron warned against the dangers of nationalism and said the “ancient demons” that caused World War I and millions of deaths are growing stronger.
“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism: Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism,” he said, adding that, when nations put their interests first and decide “who cares about the others” they “erase the most precious thing a nation can have… Its moral values.”
Trump, who has repeatedly declared himself a nationalist, sat mostly stone-faced as he listened to Macron, who sees himself as Europe’s foil to the rising sentiment, which has taken hold in Hungary and Poland among other countries.
Trump has repeatedly branded himself a “nationalist,” despite criticism from some that the term has negative connotations. At a news conference last week, Trump defended his use of the phrase. “You know what the word is? I love our country,” he said, adding: “You have nationalists. You have globalists. I also love the world and I don’t mind helping the world, but we have to straighten out our country first. We have a lot of problems.”
Sitting several seats away was Russian President Vladimir Putin, who arrived at the ceremony separately as well. Putin shook Trump’s hand, flashed him a thumbs-up sign and patted Trump’s arm as he arrived, and Trump offered a wide smile.
Trump’s eagerness to get along with the Russian leader — in spite of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and numerous other aggressive moves — has alarmed America’s European allies, who view Russia as a growing threat.
National Security Adviser John Bolton had said at one point that Trump would meet with Putin during the visit. But Trump later said he would instead sit down with him formally later this month at a world leaders’ summit in Buenos Aires.
The two both attended a lunch Macron hosted for world leaders following Sunday’s ceremony. But Putin was quoted by the state-funded Russian broadcaster RT saying they didn’t end up meeting because they didn’t want to “interrupt the schedule.”
France was the epicenter of World War I, the first global conflict. Its role as host of the main international commemoration highlighted the point that the world mustn’t stumble into war again, as it did so quickly and catastrophically with World War II.
Trump later Sunday was to visit the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial in the suburbs of Paris, where he will deliver Veterans Day remarks before returning to Washington. More than 1,500 Americans who died during the war are buried there.
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,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Trump has been criticized for failing to visit a different American cemetery about 60 miles (100 kilometers) outside of Paris Saturday. Rain grounded the helicopter Trump had planned to take, so he canceled the trip. A handful of senior administration officials, including White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, went by car in the president’s place.
Associated Press writer Lori Hinnant contributed to this report from Paris.
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