From handshakes to arm-twisting? Macron and Trump

 Macron and Trump
 Macron and Trump

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday begins his first state visit to the US, under Donald Trump's presidency, hoping to add arm-twisting to a relationship that began with a notoriously lengthy handshake.

The unlikely pairing have allied over Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons and developed a working relationship despite stark policy differences on the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate deal and trade tariffs.

Macron, who will address a joint session of Congress in English on Wednesday, will be hoping to win over the US president after months of lobbying that has so far garnered few results.

Unlikely partnership

Macron, 40, and Trump, 71, are in many ways opposites. Trump's rhetoric is largely rightist and instincts protectionist; Macron proclaims to be "neither left nor right" and strongly backs multilateralism.

The two men were elected as outsiders, if in different ways: Trump as a newcomer to politics vowing to shake up the established order; Macron creating his own movement to bypass the existing party structure. The French president told Fox News – a Trump favorite – on Sunday that neither man is "part of the classical political system".

The presidents had a testy first meeting days after Macron's election, with a firm and lasting handshake in which neither were willing to release first. The incident seemed to have a positive effect on Trump, who was later flattered on a state visit to Paris which included dinner at the Eiffel Tower and a ringside seat at the Bastille Day parade – as well as another long handshake.

The partnership has been punctuated by photo-ops, but Macron has shared more phone calls with Trump since taking office than any other leader and the relationship is pragmatic. They are not "buddies", the New York Times quoted government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux as saying. Notably, Macron has lobbied Trump while selectively criticizing him.

Agree or disagree?

Macron has maneuvered France into position as a key White House ally despite skepticism of the US at home, and also as a bridge to Europe at a time when other EU countries' relations with the US administration have cooled.

Iran nuclear deal

Trump has set a May 12 deadline to be convinced that he should not renew US sanctions on Iran, a move that would undermine the nuclear deal struck in 2015 after painstaking negotiations between Iran, China, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and the US. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will also travel to Washington this week to make the case for the agreement, which Trump, flanked by new hardline appointees John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, has long derided as a "terrible deal". 

Macron, who has struck a hawkish tone on Iran, said on Sunday the deal wasn't perfect but there was no better option. He has suggested tougher measures against Tehran's nuclear program could be possible as a side agreement; Trump wants an end to "sunset clauses" which allow Iran to restart the program after 2025. Iran has said the deal can't be negotiated. 

Disagree, negotiating.

Paris climate deal

Macron is understood to have lobbied hard to persuade Trump to stay in the Paris climate deal, and initiated the "Make our planet great again" campaign poking at the US president's position. 

French President Emmanuel Macron holds a sign with the slogan 'Make our planet great again' ahead of the One Planet Summit in Paris on December 11, 2017.
French President Emmanuel Macron holds a sign with the slogan 'Make our planet great again' ahead of the One Planet Summit in Paris on December 11, 2017. 

Trump announced on June 1, 2017 that the US would withdraw but said on July 13 "we'll see" when asked about US involvement – nothing has since happened. US billionaire Michael Bloomberg on Sunday offered to personally fund the lapsed US contribution to the fund, totaling 4.5 million US dollars. 



Trump and Macron, along with British Prime Minister Theresa May, cooperated on the strikes in early April against Syrian government facilities in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by Damascus. 

The French president raised eyebrows by saying he had persuaded Trump to keep US troops in Syria after the US president had said they would be pulled out, however. The White House denied any change in policy, and the future Western involvement in Syria remains unclear. Trump wants to get the US out, Macron believes the West needs to help Syria rebuild and has warned that an early Western exit would result in Iran filling the vacuum. 

Agree on strikes, future policy unclear.

Trade tariffs

Trump is moving ahead with tariffs on aluminum and steel which damage French allies, though the EU was granted a temporary reprieve. Macron has spoken out strongly about the dangers of protectionist policies, and there are concerns that other measures threatened by the US could undermine the global trading system under World Trade Organisation rules. Bloomberg reported that Macron and Merkel coordinated messages on global trade ahead of their respective visits to Washington this week. 



Relations with Russia are likely to be discussed, particularly in light of the airstrikes on the Syrian government backed by Moscow and the expulsion of Russian diplomats after the its alleged poisoning of the Skripals in the UK. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel poses with French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin (C) prior to a meeting during the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 8, 2017.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel poses with French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin (C) prior to a meeting during the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 8, 2017. 

Macron on Sunday said he wanted to work with Vladimir Putin but warned against showing weakness towards the Russian president, adding that he "intervenes everywhere… to fragilize our democracies". Trump's relationship with Moscow has been a focus throughout his presidency, thanks to allegations that Russia meddled in the US election to tilt it in his favor. 


North Africa

The ties between France and the US are closest on defense and security issues – 15 years after Paris refused to join the US invasion of Iraq – with the countries cooperating on terrorism in North Africa as well as in the Middle East. 


Fruitful partnership?

Macron has so far made few concrete breakthroughs with Trump despite their cordial relationship. After April's cooperation on Syria airstrikes, he will be hoping for progress in the coming days.

"The French president will have prepared a few ‘fixes’ to the Iran deal, climate accord, and trade issues to deliver Trump something he thinks is a win,” Brett Bruen, a former State Department official, told Bloomberg.

“Macron has mastered the art of the deal when it comes to Trump – forget about the substance, focus on his feelings, furnishing him with flattery and a touch of French flair.”



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