President Donald Trump celebrated NATO’s 70th birthday by asking Emmanuel Macron whether he’d like some “nice ISIS fighters” — and then promptly got schooled by the French president.
The testy exchange came Tuesday at the London summit celebrating the anniversary of the international alliance’s founding, and it wasn’t just about ISIS: The two leaders publicly sparred over trade, immigration, Turkey, and the definition of what constitutes a terrorist group.
Macron last month had called the alliance “brain-dead” because of the U.S.’s waning contributions to NATO, and Trump called that comment “nasty” on Tuesday.
“You can’t go around making statements like that about NATO,” Trump said earlier in the day when Macron wasn’t sitting next to him. “Nobody needs it more than France.”
“My statement created some reactions,” Macron responded during a news conference with Trump later in the day. “I do stand by it.”
While Trump will happily rant about anyone he pleases from his campaign soapbox, he didn’t look terribly comfortable in that face-to-face confrontation with Macron before reporters.
At issue was Trump’s relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The Turks have come under NATO scrutiny for buying a Russian-made missile system and for their harsh treatment of the Kurds. Trump has leaned toward siding with Erdoğan on his view that some Kurdish groups are, in fact, terrorists; Macron disagrees. And Turkey is threatening to oppose some NATO plans should the rest of the alliance not join in its labeling of the Kurds as terrorists.
“They [the Turks] now are fighting against those who fight with us, who fought with us, shoulder-to-shoulder against ISIS, and sometimes they work with ISIS proxies,” Macron said.
“We have a tremendous amount of captured fighters, ISIS fighters over in Syria, and they’re all under lock and key, but many are from France, many are from Germany, the U.K.,” Trump said. “Would you like some nice ISIS fighters?”
“Let’s be serious,” Macron shot back, and proceeded to fact-check him on the spot. Most of the remaining ISIS fighters aren’t from Europe, he said. They’re from Iraq and Syria. “It is true that you have foreign fighters coming from Europe, but this is a tiny minority of the overall problem we have.”
“This is why he’s a great politician,” Trump said. “That was one of the greatest non-answers I’ve ever heard. And that’s OK.”
Cover: President Donald Trump meets French President Emmanuel Macron at Winfield House, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, in London. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
This article originally appeared on VICE US.