By host­ing Trump, France’s Macron po­si­tioned him­self as a key player

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY JAMES MCAULEY james.mcauley@wash­post.com

paris — This could be the begin­ning of a beautiful friend­ship.

If the po­ten­tial for a pro­duc­tive re­la­tion­ship be­tween Pres­i­dent Trump and French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron ini­tially seemed a scant pos­si­bil­ity, Trump’s whirl­wind Bastille Day visit to France sug­gested that the two may be en route to es­tab­lish­ing a part­ner­ship of the kind the U.S. pres­i­dent cur­rently shares with few other world lead­ers, es­pe­cially in Western Europe.

De­spite Trump’s stag­ger­ing un­pop­u­lar­ity in France — not to men­tion the out­rage over Macron’s de­ci­sion to in­vite his Amer­i­can coun­ter­part to this coun­try’s sig­na­ture na­tional hol­i­day — the newly minted French pres­i­dent ap­peared to make a dar­ing gam­ble. With the United States in­creas­ingly iso­lated on the global stage, Macron sought to po­si­tion him­self as Trump’s prin­ci­pal in­ter­locu­tor in a re­gion that has shown the White House lit­tle but dis­dain.

At least for the mo­ment, that role is Macron’s for the tak­ing — and he may suc­ceed in se­cur­ing it.

In a rare news conference Thurs­day — in which both pres­i­dents took two ques­tions — Trump made no se­cret of his de­light at Macron’s in­vi­ta­tion.

“France is Amer­ica’s first and old­est ally. A lot of peo­ple don’t know that,” he said. “It was a long time ago, but we are to­gether. And I think to­gether, per­haps, more so than ever. The re­la­tion­ship is very good.”

De­spite the his­toric “spe­cial re­la­tion­ship” be­tween the United States and Bri­tain, Trump has shown lit­tle in­ter­est in Bri­tish af­fairs since his in­au­gu­ra­tion, fur­ther de­lay­ing a tra­di­tional visit to the coun­try un­til 2018. And al­though Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel re­cently tried to patch things up with Trump at the Group of 20 sum­mit in Ham­burg, she has done lit­tle to hide her dis­taste.

En­ter Macron, an out­spo­ken ad­vo­cate of glob­al­iza­tion and an “ever closer” Euro­pean Union who ini­tially seemed an an­tiTrump fig­ure on the world stage — and even a tem­po­rary an­tag­o­nist of the U.S. pres­i­dent.

Af­ter Trump es­sen­tially sup­ported Macron’s ri­val, the far­right Marine Le Pen, in this year’s French pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Macron then strong-armed Trump in a six-se­cond hand­shake when the two men met for the first time in Brus­sels in May.

The next week, Trump with­drew from the Paris cli­mate agree­ment, care­fully enun­ci­at­ing that he was “elected to rep­re­sent the cit­i­zens of Pitts­burgh, not Paris.” Macron re­sponded — in English — in a speech in which he urged peo­ple the world over to “Make our planet great again,” a clear play on Trump’s cam­paign slo­gan.

The Paris visit, how­ever, seemed to es­tab­lish the inklings of a work­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween these two seem­ingly in­com­pat­i­ble fig­ures.

Al­though Trump has been known to change his mind abruptly, his ini­tial re­ac­tion to the Paris visit was markedly pos­i­tive.

First, there was yet another dra­matic hand­shake, this one sug­gest­ing comity rather than an­i­mos­ity. At the end of the Bastille Day military parade, as he was pre­par­ing to leave for the air­port, Trump force­fully shook Macron’s hand, then pat­ted their clasped hands while shak­ing that of Macron’s wife, Brigitte, as well. Then came the tweets. In a se­ries of posts af­ter his de­par­ture, Trump wished Macron “con­grat­u­la­tions” on Bastille Day, of­fered his con­do­lences for the vic­tims of the Nice ter­ror­ist at­tack last year and thanked his host for what he char­ac­ter­ized as a worth­while meet­ing.

“Great con­ver­sa­tions with Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron and his rep­re­sen­ta­tives on trade, military and se­cu­rity,” Trump tweeted.

In France, the jury was out as to Macron’s pre­cise mo­tives in invit­ing — and em­brac­ing — Trump.

For some, even those in Macron’s in­ner cir­cle, the prin­ci­pal mo­ti­va­tion was a ver­sion of the an­cient proverb: Keep your friends close but keep your en­e­mies closer.

“Em­manuel Macron wants to try to pre­vent the pres­i­dent of the United States be­ing iso­lated,” Christophe Cas­taner, a spokesman for Macron, told French re­porters this month. “He some­times makes de­ci­sions that we dis­agree with, on cli­mate change, for ex­am­ple.”

To that end, Macron made no se­cret of those dif­fer­ences in his joint ap­pear­ance with Trump on Thurs­day.

“I very much re­spect the de­ci­sion taken by Pres­i­dent Trump,” Macron said at the news conference. “He will work on im­ple­ment­ing his cam­paign prom­ises, and as far as I’m concerned, I re­main at­tached to the Paris ac­cord and will make sure that step by step we can do ev­ery­thing which is in the ac­cord.”

But as Cas­taner put it: “We can do two things. Ei­ther you can say, ‘We’re not speak­ing, be­cause you haven’t been nice,’ or we can reach out to him to keep him in the cir­cle.”

To oth­ers, invit­ing Trump was a means for Macron to bol­ster the in­ter­na­tional im­age of France — no­tably be­fore his presidency is put to its first ma­jor do­mes­tic test this fall, when the French pres­i­dent will at­tempt to shove a con­tro­ver­sial la­bor re­form ef­fort through Par­lia­ment.

In late May, Macron hosted Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, whom he con­fronted in a bi­lat­eral news conference about the ac­tiv­i­ties of state-owned Rus­sian me­dia.

With this visit, an­a­lysts say, he sought to do the same.

“It makes Macron the man who in­vites the pow­er­ful peo­ple of the world,” said François Heis­bourg, a French na­tional se­cu­rity ex­pert who ad­vised the Macron cam­paign on ter­ror­ism. “It in­stan­ta­neously re­set the im­age of France as a player.

“The sig­nal was that France is back again — now, whether that’s last­ing, only time will tell.”

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