By Ahmad Rafat
November 12: More than 70 world leaders and senior government officials were in France last week for the Armistice ceremonies held at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on November 11 to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
WWI was one of the deadliest and most extensive conflicts in history, mobilizing 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans. It lasted from July 28, 1914, until November 11, 1918. An estimated nine million soldiers and seven million civilians died in the war.
The assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb Yugoslav nationalist, triggered the war. Although the U.S. entered the war late in April 2017, it eventually tipped the scales in favor of the allies. At the end of the war, the U.S. had two million troops in Europe.
In a 20-minute speech, French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed the dignitaries and called on everyone to “fight for peace.” He said: “Ruining this hope with a fascination for withdrawal, violence or domination would be a mistake for which future generations would rightly find us responsible.”
After the ceremony and lunch, Mr. Macron opened the Paris Peace Forum, a three-day conference to discuss fostering multilateralism.
The spokesman for the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian said: “At the luncheon, many leaders held informal but in-depth discussions on the Syrian conflict, North Korea, Saudi Kingdom and the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he and U.S. President Donald Trump did not speak at any length at the Paris events. According to the Kremlin, the two leaders plan to hold a formal meeting at the Group of 20 (G-20) summit later this month in Buenos Aires.
However, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, noted: “Presidents Trump and Putin discussed ways to stop Iran from destabilizing the region.”
Sources close to President Macron also reported that during the luncheon, the leaders of France, Germany and the U.S. discussed Iran’s role in the Syrian war. “They asked Russia’s help in forcing Iran out of Syria which they view as a significant step towards establishing peace in the country,” the sources said.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who accompanied Mr. Donald Trump during his trip, reportedly sought the cooperation of European leaders in enforcing the latest round of sanctions against Iran.
In his speech earlier in the day, Mr. Macron criticized Mr. Trump’s “America First” campaign slogan. He had said: “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism.” He added: “In saying ‘Our interests first, whatever happens to others,’ you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important: its moral values.”
The two leaders have engaged in a war of words in recent weeks over issues including but not limited to the fate of NATO.
Mr. Macron recently suggested that Europe “could build its military to protect itself from the U.S., China, and Russia.” In response, President Trump tweeted: “Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly!”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel adopted a more conciliatory approach in her speech. She said: “The world craves for peace, and we must do our utmost to achieving that.” Mrs. Merkel, however, warned: “Lack of communication and unwillingness to compromise can have deadly consequences.”
In his Sunday commemoration of the Armistice, Pope Francis, said: “While we pray for all victims of that tragedy, let us say forcefully: invest in peace, not in war! We must reject a ‘culture of war’ and seek every legitimate means to put an end to the conflicts that still bleed several regions of the world. Yet it seems that we do not learn.”
Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi