WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Donald Trump will host French President Emmanuel Macron for a state visit this week as the Iran nuclear agreement hangs in the balance, and the expiration of EU’s exemptions from steel and aluminum tariffs nears.
Macron’s visit will be the first state visit of the Trump administration. Over the past year, Macron and Trump have forged an unlikely partnership. U.S. media dubbed the relationship a “bromance” and “one of history’s oddest diplomatic couples.”
“The Trump-Macron relationship is perhaps one of the most unexpected partnerships of the Trump era,” observed Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at Heritage Foundation in an interview with VOA. “Clearly, Emmanuel Macron is very different to Trump in many respects ideologically, but the two leaders have formed a very pragmatic working relationship.”
A senior administration official said the themes of the visit include celebrating the close ties between France and the United States, trade and investment issues, and security concerns, such as combating terrorism and the way forward in Syria.
It is expected that the Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), will be front and center of the bilateral discussions. Analysts see Macron’s visit, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to the White House later in the week, as last-minute efforts to save the deal ahead of Trump’s May 12 deadline for the U.S. to pull out of the agreement if the terms are not changed.
A senior administration official told reporters it’s difficult to say the degree of detail the two leaders will go into regarding the Iran accord. He noted the discussions between European allies and the United States are “not quite done yet,” so the timeframe for the president make a decision on the deal will be “mid-May.”
“The president’s three priorities with respect to JCPOA are the sunset clause, the ballistic missile program, and more broadly, Iran’s malign activities throughout the region and throughout the world,” the official said.
Trump has demanded these flaws be fixed in the 2015 deal Iran made with six major powers — the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China — to curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from international sanctions that hobbled its economy.
Trump has called the agreement crafted under the Obama administration “the worst deal ever negotiated.” Trump contends Iran would quickly achieve nuclear capability at the end of the 10-year agreement and often assails its current military adventures in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.
Heritage Foundation expert Gardiner said it will be very interesting to see what Macron has to offer.
“Unless measures are taken to strengthen the deal, the deal should be dropped by the United States. I expect actually that’s what the president is going to do, unless there is a convincing case made by European leaders that Europe is committed to fundamentally strengthen the agreement. We haven’t seen that commitment yet,” he said.
Eric Jones, director of European and Eurasian Studies at Johns Hopkins University, also doesn’t see Trump changing his mind about Iran after meeting with Macron, and he believes the Europeans see that as well.
“They’re hoping to convince the president they are going to introduce their own sanctions outside of the agreement in order to punish Iran for its behavior in Syria and other places, and that will be adequate reasons for the president to continue to waive U.S. sanctions under the deal where it stands. That’s what they want, a short-term achievement, not a long-term change in the president’s perspective,” Jones told VOA.
Regarding trade, for Macron, extending the steel and aluminum exemption for the EU will be the first priority. A senior administration official said it’s hard to say if there will be any trade announcement following the state visit.
Jones said there are a lot of differences on trade, the most important of which is that Trump’s team hasn’t wrapped its collective mind around the idea that the European Union is a single trading entity.
“President Trump’s team has repeatedly approached not just France, but Germany and other European countries with the eye of making bilateral deals with these countries. Unfortunately, that’s a category error. These countries can’t make bilateral deals with the United States, so I think part of what President Macron is going to try to do, is better to push the conversation forward as a way of suggesting the United States should imagine the European Union as a single trading entity and a bilateral arrangement between the US and EU is what the White House should aspire to achieve,” he noted.
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Macron’s state visit will start Monday with a tour of Mount Vernon and a private couples’ dinner hosted by Trump. Macron and Trump will meet at the White House Tuesday morning for a one-on-one session in the Oval Office, followed by a joint press conference. That evening, Trump will host Macron for a state dinner at the White House. On Wednesday, Macron will address a joint session of Congress.