President Trump vowed on Tuesday to look for common ground with his French counterpart in dealing with Iran but made no commitment to stick with the nuclear agreement he described as "insane" and "ridiculous."
Receiving French President Emmanuel Macron snf his wife Brigitte Macron for a state dinner at the White House, Trump repeated his criticism of the agreement to freeze Iran's nuclear program, saying it doesn't address Tehran's missile program or its attempts to stir up unrest in the region.
The first state dinner of the Trump White House is taking place 15 months after the inauguration, relatively late compared to previous administrations which typically hosted elaborate ceremonial sitdowns by the end of their first years in office.
Tuesday's dinner is a relatively low-key affair, with few celebrities and big Washington names on the guest list.
The dinner comes after Trump and Macron called for more talks with Iran, but gave no clear sign if Trump will pull the U.S. out of the existing nuclear deal with Tehran.
Earlier in the day, Trump issued a warning to Iran.
“If they restart their nuclear program, they will have bigger problems than they have ever had before,” Trump said during a meeting with Macron in the Oval Office. "You can mark it down."
Iran likely would regard the re-imposition of sanctions as killing the JCPOA, and that country’s president, Hassan Rouhani, warned on Tuesday of severe consequences if the United States withdraws from the agreement.
Such a move could create major discord between key trans-Atlantic partners and throw the Middle East into even deeper turmoil.
"Macron essentially dangled the prospect of a grand bargain with four pillars — the JCPOA, a promise by Iran to never develop nuclear weapons, preventing Iran from further expanding its ballistic missile technology, and addressing Iran's broader role in the Middle East — in order to try and keep Trump on board and to stop him from withdrawing from the JCPOA on May 12," American University School of International Service Professional Lecturer Garret Martin tells VOA. "It remains to be seen whether that will be enough to sway Trump, and if other major powers and regional players, including Iran, would even be open to a grand bargain."
Benham Ben Taliblu, an Iran analyst with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, tells VOA that if Trump declares he is abrogating all U.S. commitments under the deal, "the Iranians would look to try to try to create some sort of leverage, restart part of their nuclear program, but most importantly the Iranians would sic the Europeans and the international community on America and try to isolate America."
Macron also wants Trump to keep American forces in northern Syria to avoid the risk of giving up the country to the Assad regime and Iran.
Trump told reporters that "I'd love to get out" of Syria where the United States has 2,000 U.S. troops seeking to eradicate the Islamic State terror group.
"We want to come home. We'll be coming home," predicted Trump. "But we want to leave a strong and lasting footprint."
The U.S. president also criticized other countries in the region for not doing enough with their own forces to fight terrorism and to counter the Iranian threat.
Trump said the United States had spent seven trillion dollars in the Middle East over an 18-year period and has "less than nothing" to show for it.
Some wealthy countries there "wouldn't last a week" without the United States ensuring their security, according to Trump who declared — without naming any particular states — that they would have to step up and pay and put soldiers on the ground.
"President Trump agreed that he didn't want to give Iran a free hand in Syria, but his solution was to have regional states — presumably Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries — fund the reconstruction and humanitarian expenses and to provide their own troops to stabilize the country," said Jeffrey Rathke, the deputy director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Rathke, a former U.S. diplomat, tells VOA that Trump's idea "has currency in some Washington quarters at the moment, but is unlikely to gain traction in the region."
Trump, throughout Tuesday when alongside Macron, repeatedly issued fresh warnings to Tehran and blamed it for a role in all of the troubles in the region.
"If Iran threatens us in any way, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid," said Trump.
Macron is Trump's first guest for an official state visit, 15 months into his presidency.
"It's not fake news," said Trump before shaking hands in the Oval Office with Macron, affirming what he termed their "great relationship."
Trump added, "I don't imagine it's ever been closer in the history of our two countries."
"Each time we work together we protect liberty, freedom and peace," responded Macron, noting the long partnership between France and the United States that goes back to the era of the American revolution.
A 21-gun salute echoed across the South Lawn on Tuesday morning while nearly 500 service members from the five branches of the U.S. military stood at attention to officially welcome Macron to the White House.
Trump's first state dinner Tuesday evening, honoring the French president and his wife, Brigette Macron, will feature entertainment by the Washington National Opera company.
Shortly after his arrival here Monday, the Macrons, along with the U.S. president and first lady Melania Trump, ceremonially planted a tree on the White House South Lawn. The young oak came from the Belleau Wood, where more than 9,000 American Marines died in a 1918 World War I battle on French soil.
The Macrons and Trumps also took a helicopter tour of Washington tourist attractions before touching down for dinner at Mount Vernon, the 18th century estate of America's first president, George Washington.
Macron on Wednesday is to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress, coinciding with the 58th anniversary of a similar appearance there by former French President Charles de Gaulle.
VOA's Victor Beattie contributed to this story.