PORTSMOUTH, England (AP) — President Donald Trump on Wednesday joined world leaders to praise alliances and military service ahead of the anniversary of the D-Day invasion, just hours after offering no regrets when asked about whether he wished he had been able to serve in the Vietnam War.
Trump’s comments came in a wide-ranging interview in which he also dismissed the significance of climate change, defended his choice of words about the American-born Duchess of Sussex and suggested he was looking into new gun regulations banning silencers. Later, while Europe slept, he lashed out at actress and singer Bette Midler and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., via Twitter.
The onslaught of disjointed news and commentary threatened to distract from Trump’s purpose for the visit — to pay tribute to the veterans of the battle that shifted the course of World War II 75 years ago.
Ahead of his trip, some worried the unpredictable president would inject politics into the typically solemn ceremony. While Trump did not veer off script during the memorial — expressing reverence for the bravery of veterans — his comments before the event expressed none of that sensitivity concerning service in Vietnam.
In the interview with Piers Morgan that aired Tuesday, Trump was asked if he wished he had served in Vietnam. “Well, I was never a fan of that war. I’ll be honest with you. I thought it was a terrible war. I thought it was very far away,” Trump said. “At that time, nobody had ever heard of the country.”
Trump received a series of deferments to avoid serving in Vietnam, including one attained with a physician’s letter stating that he suffered from bone spurs in his feet.
Trump was then asked whether serving in the military generally was something he would have liked. Trump said he would not have minded at all and talked about how he had beefed up spending on defense as president.
“I would have been honored, but I think I make up for it right now,” Trump said. “I think I’m making up for it rapidly because we’re rebuilding our military at a level it’s never seen before.”
Trump’s first two days in the United Kingdom were all about honoring him, as Queen Elizabeth II and the British government showered him with a grand arrival ceremony, a state dinner and personal tours of Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and the Churchill War Rooms. The next two days are meant to focus on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, and the soldiers who fought and died saving Europe from Nazi Germany.
Trump did his part with a 90-second recitation of some of the prayer that President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered to a worried nation just getting word of the fighting.
Trump, with images of an American flag and Roosevelt projected behind him, read to the crowd, “Almighty God, our sons, pride of our nation, this day, have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our republic, our religion, and our civilization and to set free a suffering humanity.”
The president sat in a VIP area between Queen Elizabeth II and first lady Melania Trump. Some 300 World War II veterans also attended the seaside ceremony. Trump joined in giving a standing ovation to a group of vets who appeared on stage as the commemoration began.
The queen provided the keynote address in unusually personal terms.
“When I attended the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings, some thought it might be the last such event. But the wartime generation, my generation, is resilient, and I am delighted to be with you in Portsmouth today,” she said.
After the event, Trump visited with American World War II veterans who were among Allied troops on D-Day. He had lunch and met briefly with German Chancellor Angela Merkel before heading to Ireland for an airport meeting with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and a stay at his golf course in the village of Doonbeg, his first visit to the country as president.
Trump and Merkel discussed Libya and conditions in West Africa during their roughly 10-minute meeting, said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.
Trump used his interview with Morgan to dispute any notion that he meant insult when he used the term “nasty” in discussing the American-born Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle. The phrase generated a lot of media coverage in the United Kingdom. Trump worked diligently to explain that he was speaking specifically on her comments about him, not about her.
Trump said: “She was nasty to me. And that’s OK for her to be nasty, it’s not good for me to be nasty to her and I wasn’t.”
He said the controversy did not come up when he spoke with Markle’s husband, Prince Harry, who “couldn’t have been nicer.”
Trump was also asked about whether he would support banning silencers after a gunman in Virginia used two semi-automatic handguns, a silencer and extended ammunition magazines to slaughter 12 people at a municipal building.
Trump said a silencer ban was something “I’m going to seriously look at.” But he also was quick to emphasize his opposition to restricting access to guns. He repeated his claim that “in London, you have stabbings all over” and said he had read a story describing how “your hospital is a sea of blood, all over the floors.” Similar comments in the past have provoked anger from British doctors and legislators.
Trump said he discussed climate change at length with Prince Charles.
“We were going to have a 15-minute chat. And it turned out to be an hour and a half. And he did most of the talking,” Trump said. “He is really into climate change, and I think that’s great.”
Trump, who has called climate change a hoax, didn’t indicate he was moved by the arguments he heard. “I believe that there’s a change in weather, and I think it changes both ways,” Trump told Morgan, a former contestant on Trump’s “The Celebrity Apprentice.”
Trump’s after-midnight tweets showed anew that the president has a hard time overlooking criticism, taking on an actress who has been critical of him on Twitter but who also offered an apology when she discovered a quote attributed to Trump had not occurred. Trump called her a “washed up psycho.”
Midler replied: “I want to thank everyone who came to my defense last night during my personal Battle of the Bulge with he who must not be named. Your wit and good nature really lifted my spirits; as a newly washed up psycho, I am very grateful for your thoughts and prayers.”
Associated Press writers Darlene Superville and Deb Riechmann in Washington contributed to this report.
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