Paris, Nov 10 (AFP) US President Donald Trump and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron sought Saturday to ease tensions caused by a defence row that risked clouding World War I centenary commemorations in Paris.Trump was one of dozens of world leaders taking part in events to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the war.On Saturday, he and his wife Melania cancelled a trip to Belleau Wood battlefield and cemetery in northern France, citing “scheduling and logistical difficulties” caused by the rainy weather.Coming on the eve of Veteran’s Day in the United States, the decision drew criticism on social media, where many noted that the rain had not stopped Macron, Germany’s Angela Merkel or Canada’s Justin Trudeau from paying their respects to the dead.”They died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate @realDonaldTrump couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to The Fallen,” Nicholas Soames, a British Conservative member of parliament and grandson of Winston Churchill tweeted.Ceremonies have been held across the world this week in honour of the 18 million soldiers and civilians who perished in World War I.In one of the high points, Macron and Chancellor Merkel on Saturday unveiled a plaque to the Franco-German reconciliation in the forest clearing in northeast France where the armistice ending the conflict was signed.Macron, a centrist advocate of open borders and multilateralism, has repeatedly invoked the war in recent weeks to hammer home his message that rising nationalism is again destabilising the world.advertisementHe will host Trump, Merkel, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, among others, for dinner at Orsay Museum on Sunday evening.On Sunday morning, they will be joined by President Vladimir Putin of Russia for the main ceremony at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Paris, which will draw in 70 world leaders.On Saturday, Macron and Trump downplayed their divisions after a tumultuous start to the weekend, which saw Trump fire off a tweet slamming Macron’s proposals for a European army just as his plane was touching down in Paris.The spat was the latest between Trump and Macron, who struck up a warm relationship initially but have clashed over a growing list of issues, including Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the 2015 Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal.”President Macron of France has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the US, China and Russia,” the US president tweeted, referring to remarks made by Macron in an interview three days earlier.”Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the US subsidizes greatly!” he added.In the interview, Macron had cited Trump’s plans to pull the US out of a Cold War-era nuclear treaty and said a joint European Union force was needed to end Europe’s reliance on US military might.”We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States,” he said, listing various threats including cyberattacks.During talks later at the Elysee Palace Macron said his call for greater European autonomy on defence was not intended as a snub towards the US and backed Trump’s calls for EU members to boost their defence spending.”We need a much better burden-sharing within NATO,” he said, patting his counterpart’s knee affectionately.Trump described himself and Macron as “very good friends” and expressed support for “a strong Europe”.The US leader has however ducked out of a peace conference Sunday in Paris, which Macron and Merkel intend to use as a platform for promoting multilateralism.The WWI commemorations come at a watershed moment for the liberal post-war order, with anti-immigration populists at the helm in the US and Brazil, sharing power in Italy, and making strong gains in Germany, where Merkel has announced her resignation in 2021 after a series of electoral setbacks.On Saturday, she visited the site of Germany’s capitulation at the end of the World War I, the first German leader to do in 78 years.The forest in Compiegne is doubly symbolic as Adolf Hitler chose the same train carriage in the same clearing to sign the surrender of the French on June 22, 1940 at the start of World War II.Macron, sporting a cornflower in his lapel — the French equivalent to Britain’s remembrance poppy — and Merkel reviewed grey-clad soldiers from the Franco-German brigade, before unveiling a plaque to Franco-German reconciliation.They also visited a replica of the carriage which was destroyed during World War II.advertisementThe visit underscored the close ties between two countries that fought three wars between 1870 and 1945 but are now seen as the lynchpins of peace in Western Europe. AFP NSANSA
The Government is close to reaching a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with Finance and Planning Minister, Dr. Peter Phillips, stating that discussions with the technical team “are virtually at an end”. Dr. Phillips, in a statement issued on Saturday, said that talks have intensified over the last two months, with the visit of senior officials to Washington, and the negotiating team worked throughout the Christmas period, with e-mail and telephone exchanges with Fund staff as recently as December 28. The Minister said that while his objective at the outset was to have brought the negotiations to a satisfactory conclusion by the end of December, the Government remains committed to arriving at an arrangement that is mutually satisfactory to Jamaica and the IMF board. He said that the agreement reached must be in the best interest of Jamaica and provide protection for the most vulnerable. Dr. Phillips pointed out that the time that is being taken to reach an agreement is not unusual, as there are “complex and weighty issues at stake, which will determine the future prospects of our country”. These include measures to halt the debt; raising economic efficiency in both the private and public sectors; and creating the conditions for self-sustaining growth. There has also been extensive exploration of the size, range and scope of the public sector and all the elements that contribute to the persistent fiscal deficits including the tax policy, staff costs, interest costs, procurement and cash management, capital expenditure, and how best to protect the most vulnerable. Dr. Phillips said that even where there is agreement in principle about what has to be achieved by the end of the first year of a programme, there is an instinctive insistence on the part of the IMF that as much as possible should be done up front. “The Government has therefore invested great effort in advancing pension reform, wage negotiations, reducing the effective size of the public sector establishment, tax administration, introduction of a centralised treasury management system and various pieces of enabling legislation such as the Public Debt Management Act and regulations governing the Fiscal Responsibility Framework,” he informed. He said that while the discussions with the Fund’s technical staff are almost concluded, there are still some remaining issues that have to be settled. These are: the approach and timetable for a comprehensive policy on tax waivers and incentives; and safeguards against fiscal slippage in this fiscal year and the examination of even higher primary surpluses, in the medium-term, to underpin targets for debt reduction. Dr. Phillips said that following conclusion of the negotiations, there will be prior actions to be undertaken subject to the approval the Cabinet and the necessary consultations with local stakeholders. The completion of these will determine the timing of the IMF Board’s approval. The Finance Minister, in his statement, placed the country on notice that the continued implementation of economic reform is going to require commitment and sacrifice by all Jamaicans. “Progress along this pathway will require fundamental changes in our normal operational patterns. We will have to be more efficient and more diligent in how the state operates and how we facilitate investors in order to create the better jobs and higher levels of economic growth, which together promise a better future for Jamaica and its people,” he said.