U.S. President Donald Trump is the guest of honor at France’s Bastille Day celebrations, an elaborate display that includes military bands and flyovers by American jet fighters and a massive parade to mark the centennial of the U.S. entry into the First World War.
The U.S. and French flags have been flying on Paris’ famed Champs Élysées where U.S. troops were scheduled to lead a parade with thousands of French soldiers.
More than 3,500 police took positions along the parade route to guard against potential terrorist attacks.
The celebrations come one year after a truck attack in the Mediterranean city of Nice killed 86 people. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility.
Agreement on counterterrorism
Counterterrorism was a central point when Trump met with French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday, in an agenda that was otherwise marked with differences, including on issues of climate change and trade.
In an atmosphere where French and other Western European leaders are alarmed by what they perceive as Trump’s isolationist and protectionist tendencies, Macron worked to play up the things that he and the U.S. administration have in common. The fight against terrorism topped that list.
After their discussions Thursday, the French leader said the proper answer to terrorism is to strengthen cooperation between the two countries and sustain a “never-ending fight against terrorists no matter where they are.”
“In this respect,” Macron said, “there is no difference and no gap between the French and the American positions.”
Symbolic guest of honor
Having Trump as the guest of honor for the commemoration on France’s National Day is deeply symbolic and a sign that France and Europe need America’s engagement as much as ever.
France on July 14 marks the 1789 storming by rebels of the Bastille prison in Paris, an event that signaled the start of the French Revolution.
This year, leaders are coupling the festivities with the 100th anniversary of the U.S. decision to enter World War I. The U.S. Congress’ declaration of war happened April 6, 1917, but the anniversary is the subject of yearlong celebrations in France.
The United States entered the war against the Central Powers of the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria almost three years after it started and participated for 19 months. However, Washington’s economic help and manpower helped the allies, broke and overstretched, win a war they could have easily lost.
Many people in America had opposed involvement in the war, causing the administration of then-President Woodrow Wilson to hesitate. Wilson ran for re-election in 1916 on the premise that he had kept the United States out of the war, but called for a declaration of war once he was re-elected.
Watch: Trump, Macron Work to Bridge Differences, But No Promises on Climate
Hoping Trump will change positions
Analysts say France’s new leaders hope that by engaging President Trump, they can influence him to change positions on issues like climate change and steer him away from perceived protectionist measures like the tariffs he has threatened to slap on steel imports that could hurt European Union members like Germany.
Hours before Macron met with President Trump on Thursday, he had consulted with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who paid a quick visit to Paris as Trump was arriving in the city.
After his discussions with Macron, Trump gave indications that he might change his thinking on his decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord.
“Something could happen with respect to the Paris Accord. We’ll see what happens. But we will talk about that over the coming period of time. And if it happens, that will be wonderful,” the U.S. leader told reporters Thursday. “And if it doesn’t, that will be OK, too,” he said.
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