PARIS (Reuters) – President Emmanuel Macron faces a week of historic commemoration and intense diplomacy as he prepares to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One and host more than 60 world leaders at a peace gathering in Paris.
U.S. President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and scores of other heads of state and government are expected in Paris for the culminating ceremony on Nov. 11, the actual centenary, and the opening of the Paris Peace Forum, an initiative to improve international cooperation and governance.
After a four-day break from work – which prompted the Elysee to deny the 40-year-old president was suffering from exhaustion – Macron will spend a week visiting the former battlefields of northern and eastern France to honour the dead of the Great War, when 1.4 million French soldiers perished.
He begins the commemoration in Strasbourg, on the Franco-German border, on Sunday with an evening ceremony at the city’s cathedral with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Much of the grinding four years of war was fought on French and Belgian soil; the mounds of trench lines still scar the land along the frontiers of eastern France and its borders with Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium.
On Friday Macron will lay wreaths with British Prime Minister Theresa May in the town of Albert to honour British soldiers who died at the Battle of the Somme. On Saturday he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will hold a joint ceremony at the train carriage where the armistice was signed in 1918.
While he was born more than 30 years after World War Two, Macron has been quick to draw links to the past to underscore his awareness of the historical weight of the conflicts that tore Europe apart. He often cites the fact that he grew up in Amiens, a city deeply stricken by both wars.
“I was born in what we call in French La Somme,” he told relatives of veterans during a visit to Australia earlier this year. “I grew up with all these thousands of stories, memories and traces of what France owes” its allies, he said.
The series of commemorations culminates on Sunday Nov. 11 when services are held in France and Britain, including a minute’s silence at 11 a.m., the time the armistice was signed.
Trump and Putin will hold talks while in Paris, with the Russian leader seeking to discuss U.S. plans to leave a 1987 nuclear missile treaty, among other issues.
The question will be whether it is Macron who manages to bring them together, or Trump who may try to claim credit.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will also be in Paris for the centenary. But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is only sending his premier Rami Hamdallah, scotching talk that the Peace Forum could bring the first substantive meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders since 2015.
A deal to end the 70-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains elusive, and wars and insurgencies continue to plague larges swathes of the Middle East.
Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Mark Heinrich