Trump skipped WWI cemetery visit to avoid causing traffic jams in Paris, White House claims

President accused of insulting US troops by skipping service due to rain

Chris Baynes
Monday 12 November 2018 12:27 GMT
President Trump jokes about getting rained on during WW1 speech

The White House has defended Donald Trump’s decision to cancel a visit to a First World War cemetery in France, insisting the president did not want to cause traffic jams in Paris.

Despite being scheduled to lay a wreath and observe a moment of silence on Saturday at Aisne-Marne American cemetery in the village of Belleau, the US president called off his appearance due to rain.

The White House said poor visibility had grounded the presidential helicopter, but Mr Trump’s no-show prompted incredulity and condemnation in both Europe and the US.

British Conservative MP Nicolas Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill, branded the president a “pathetic inadequate”. A former US deputy national security adviser said Mr Trump’s decision to remain in Paris was “a remarkable insult” to Americans and allied troops who died in the war.

Amid questions over why the president had not made the 60-mile journey to the cemetery by road instead, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “A car ride of two-and-a-half hours, each way, would have required closures to substantial portions of the Paris roadways for the president’s motorcade, on short notice.

“President Trump did not want to cause that kind of unexpected disruption to the city and its people.”

The statement did little to extinguish criticism of Mr Trump, who spent much of Saturday at the US ambassador’s house in Paris instead of visiting Belleau - the site of an important 1918 battle in which Americans and French repelled German forces . More than 1,800 Americans died during four weeks of fighting in woodland near the village in northern France.

The president had flown to Paris for events to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

David Frum, a former speechwriter for president George W Bush, said: “It’s incredible that a president would travel to France for this significant anniversary – and then remain in his hotel room watching TV rather than pay in person his respects to the Americans who gave their lives in France for the victory gained 100 years ago tomorrow.

“It’s not even 60 miles from central Paris to the monument. If the weather is too wet and windy for helicopters, a presidential motorcade could drive the distance in an hour.”

Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser under president Barack Obama, said the White House’s explanation for the cancelled visit made little sense.

“I helped plan all of President Obama’s trips for 8 years,” he wrote on Twitter. “There is always a rain option. Always.”

A handful of senior administration officials, including White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, attended Belleau without Mr Trump.

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The president did appear at a different ceremony on Sunday at Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial, a site in the Paris suburbs where more than 1,500 Americans who died in the war are buried.

He joked about the rain as he addressed second world war veterans, telling them: “You look so comfortable up there, under shelter. We are getting drenched, you’re very smart people."

Earlier, he had joined other world leaders including Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin at the Arc de Triomphe to mark 100 years since the end of the war that killed millions.

The US leader listened in silence as Mr Macron warned of the rise of nationalism, described by the French president as the “betrayal of patriotism”.

Mr Trump has described himself as a nationalist.

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