Trump, Macron may not be odd cou­ple

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s re­la­tion­ship with Em­manuel Macron got off to an awk­ward start, with a jaw-clench­ing hand­shake at a sum­mit in Brus­sels be­fore the French pres­i­dent re­buked the US leader for his stance on cli­mate change. The two men would ap­pear to have lit­tle in com­mon. Trump, 71, is an anti-glob­al­ist elected on a pledge to “make Amer­ica great again” who is un­pre­dictable on for­eign pol­icy. Macron, 39, is an ar­dent Euro­pean in­te­gra­tionist more than three decades younger who sees him­self as an hon­est bro­ker of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions.

Trump’s visit to Paris this week, to cel­e­brate 100 years since US troops en­tered World War One on the side of France and Bri­tain, fol­lows bruising talks on trade and cli­mate pol­icy that pit­ted him against lead­ers from the world’s ma­jor economies at a G20 sum­mit last week­end. In Paris, Trump will seek com­mon ground on diplo­matic and mil­i­tary en­deav­ours. Both he and Macron have a po­lit­i­cal in­ter­est in build­ing rap­port, and both have a cor­po­rate back­ground that may help un­der­pin their re­la­tion­ship.

Trump could use a friend over­seas. His pref­er­ence for a more uni­lat­eral, trans­ac­tional diplo­macy has un­set­tled tra­di­tional al­lies in Eu­rope and left the US pres­i­dent ap­pear­ing iso­lated among world lead­ers. “Some­times Trump makes de­ci­sions we don’t like, such as on cli­mate, but we can deal with it in two ways: we can say, ‘We are not go­ing to talk to you,’ or we can of­fer you our hand to bring you back into the cir­cle,” gov­ern­ment spokesman Christophe Cas­taner told French news chan­nel LCI. “Macron is sym­bol­i­cally of­fer­ing Trump his hand.”

Po­lit­i­cal Out­siders

Trump and Macron are po­lit­i­cal out­siders, the Amer­i­can a real es­tate mogul, his French coun­ter­part a for­mer in­vest­ment banker. Both love a good deal, de­mand tan­gi­ble re­sults rather than lofty am­bi­tions, and have a pen­chant for show­man­ship. Like Macron, Trump will be look­ing for com­mon ground. Speak­ing to re­porters on Air Force One re­turn­ing from the G20 meet­ing in the Ger­man city of Ham­burg, Gary Cohn, di­rec­tor of the White House Na­tional Eco­nomic Coun­cil, said Trump and Macron en­joyed a “great” re­la­tion­ship.

“You know, Macron and the pres­i­dent have some­what dif­fer­ent views on how to achieve the end goal, but I think the end goal is the same,” Cohn said. Trump an­nounced in June that the United States would pull out of a land­mark in­ter­na­tional ac­cord reached in Paris in 2015 to fight cli­mate change.

In hard-fought ne­go­ti­a­tions in Ger­many, Macron tried to soften US lan­guage on cli­mate pol­icy. Cohn played down talk of ten­sions with Macron over cli­mate pol­icy. He said he ex­pected meet­ings in Paris on mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity mat­ters as well as “a long bi­lat­eral meet­ing be­tween the two men”.

Hav­ing re­shaped their coun­tries’ po­lit­i­cal land­scapes, both now have cer­tain shared ob­jec­tives, mak­ing crush­ing Is­lamic State and coun­ter­ing global ter­ror­ism a lead­ing pri­or­ity. It is un­clear whether the lead­ers will ad­dress thornier is­sues such as pol­icy to­ward Iran, pos­si­ble Amer­i­can tar­iffs on steel and Rus­sia sanctions leg­is­la­tion in the US Congress that might de­rail a €9.5 bil­lion ($10.9 bil­lion) gas pipe project in which France’s Engie SA has a stake.

The United States and France hold dif­fer­ing views on Iran. On a visit to Saudi Ara­bia in May, Trump sin­gled out Iran as a key source of fund­ing and sup­port for mil­i­tant groups. Dur­ing the US pres­i­den­tial race, he threat­ened to tear up an in­ter­na­tional agree­ment on Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram, brand­ing it “the worst deal ever ne­go­ti­ated”. So far Trump has stopped short of killing an ac­cord that has al­lowed French com­pa­nies in­clud­ing plane­maker Air­bus SE, oil ma­jor To­tal SA and au­to­mo­bile man­u­fac­tur­ers Peugeot SA and Re­nault SA to sign ini­tial deals.

‘A Win-Win for Both’

Just as Macron flat­tered Russian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin with a meet­ing at the gilded Ver­sailles palace of France’s for­mer monar­chy, Trump will bask in a Bastille Day cer­e­mony on Fri­day laden with pageantry and mil­i­tary pomp, with US sol­diers parad­ing down the Champs El­y­sees. For Macron, France’s youngest leader since Napoleon two cen­turies ago, it is an op­por­tu­nity to use soft diplo­macy to win Trump’s con­fi­dence and set about in­flu­enc­ing US for­eign pol­icy at a time Euro­pean diplo­mats say Wash­ing­ton lacks di­rec­tion.

“The visit is a win-win for both,” said one French diplo­mat. “Trump re­mains un­chal­lenged and gets the grandeur that he en­joys. Macron re­mains un­chal­lenged and gets a no-fuss pic­ture with the leader of the ‘free world’”. Macron is con­cerned about Trump feel­ing backed into a cor­ner, French diplo­mats said. More­over, he senses an op­por­tu­nity to sway US think­ing and el­e­vate the role of France, a nu­clear power and per­ma­nent mem­ber of the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, in global af­fairs, in par­tic­u­lar on Syria and the Mid­dle East, they added.

France is the sec­ond-big­gest con­trib­u­tor to the US-led coalition in Syria, and French of­fi­cials have ex­pressed fears that the United States has no clear vi­sion be­yond tak­ing the mil­i­tary fight to Is­lamic State.

It is one rea­son, the diplo­mats say, that in his first two months as pres­i­dent, Macron has sought warmer ties with the Krem­lin, just as Trump is left ham­strung in his re­la­tions with Moscow by al­le­ga­tions of Russian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 US elec­tion to help Trump win and pos­si­ble col­lu­sion with Rus­sia by peo­ple close to him. “The Rus­sians are pleased to have a grown-up to talk to in Eu­rope,” a sec­ond French diplo­mat said.

Daniel Fried, an ex­pert on USEuro­pean re­la­tions who served un­der pres­i­dents Bill Clin­ton, Ge­orge W Bush and Barack Obama, said Trump had noth­ing to gain po­lit­i­cally at home or abroad by iso­lat­ing him­self. “By reach­ing out to the French I sus­pect he hopes to show he can be a vi­able ac­tor on the world stage.” — Reuters

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