Donald Trump offers hand of friendship to Emmanuel Macron on Paris visit

world Updated: Jul 14, 2017 16:11 IST
The Guardian
French President Emmanuel Macron,US President Donald Trump,Bastille Day military parade

French President Emmanuel Macron listens to US President Donald Trump as they attend the annual Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris on July 14, 2017.(AFP)

Donald Trump has made a gushing show of friendship to the French leader, Emmanuel Macron, saying the two countries had an “unbreakable bond” , pledging to draw up a road map for post-conflict Syria, and asserting that the two leaders could work together despite clear differences on climate change.

But when he appeared alongside Macron under the golden chandeliers of the Élysée Palace after two hours of talks about Syria, Iraq and counter-terrorism, Trump immediately faced fresh questions over allegations that his family sought to collude with Russia to win the 2016 US election.

Related: Trump publicly defends Trump Jr: ‘Most people would have taken that meeting’

He swiftly defended his son over accusations he had met a Russian lawyer during the US presidential campaign, describing Donald Trump Jr as a “wonderful young man” and saying “most people would have taken that meeting .”

Trump remained non-committal over the US eventually rejoining the global climate agreement that he pulled out of last month to the dismay of Macron and other world leaders. At first, he hinted that he might change his mind and bring the US back into the agreement, saying: “Something could happen with respect to the Paris accord. We’ll see what happens. We will talk about that in the coming period of time.”

But he quickly followed up with a shrug, adding: “if it happens that will be wonderful, and if it doesn’t that will be OK, too.”

Trump acknowledged that France and the US had “occasional disagreements” but said that would not disrupt a friendship that dates back to the American Revolution. Macron acknowledged sharp differences with Trump over climate change, but he said he and the US president were able to discuss how best to combat “a global threat with enemies who are trying to destabilise us”, with a focus on counter-terrorism

Trump said his recent meeting with Vladimir Putin had led to a ceasefire in a part of southern Syria and said that he was working on “a second ceasefire in a very rough part of Syria”. He suggested that other parties would become involved in the deal, saying “and all of a sudden you will have no bullets fired in Syria”.

As Trump began his 24-hour visit to Paris, the two leaders’ body language was under close scrutiny. Macron chose to move on from the aggressive handshake he offered the US leader at their initial meeting in May, instead styling himself as Trump’s new “straight-talking” best friend on the international stage .

The invitation to the US president to attend this year’s Bastille Day celebrations was in the pipeline long before both Macron and Trump’s election because 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the entry by the US into the first world war.

The Trumps were greated with great military pomp by the Macrons at the vast military complex at Les Invalides, built by the Sun King Louis XIV, where Trump joined the French leader in inspecting the troops.

This appeared to flatter the US president, who has described himself as “a big military person” fond of army parades. He patted Macron on the back several times and, during a number of handshakes, both men were measured, not repeating their earlier white-knuckled standoff in Brussels. But when Trump took the hand of Brigitte Macron for the first time, he pulled it firmly towards himself and awkwardly did not let go for some time.

Soon afterwards, the presidential couples toured the historic military site and visited Napoleon’s tomb, with Trump remarking on France’s “great history”. Trump turned at one point to Brigitte Macron and said: “You’re in such good shape,” remarking to her later: “Beautiful”.

Trump patted Macron repeatedly on the shoulder and both seemed to slip into buddy roles. After visiting Napoleon’s tomb, Trump turned to Macron and said: “You wanna ride?” He then gave the French president a lift to the Élysée Palace in “the Beast”, the US presidential armoured car.

Arriving at the Élysée with Macron as his passenger, Trump appeared so self-assured he seemed to be hosting the event himself. He mouthed a silent “thank you” to waiting journalists as if to an applauding audience.

Inside, there was yet another official handshake, which White House reporters described as “less feral” than the previous death-grip encounters, with Trump willingly letting go first.

Macron’s strategy was to set up a kind of of persuasive bridge-building with Trump after observing the US president’s increasing isolation on the western stage.

The Élysée deliberately added what one official called a personal “postcard” tourism touch: instead of dining at the Élysée Palace, Macron and his wife, Brigitte, invited the Trumps to eat a meal cooked by the chef Alain Ducasse in a restaurant at the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Brigitte Macron also took Melania Trump on a tour of Notre Dame cathedral where the American first lady appeared to stop for a prayer and they then took a boat tour up the river Seine. The US first lady visited the Necker children’s hospital in Paris earlier in the day, where she spoke to children in French.

For the Macrons, it was a deliberate attempt to show the French capital was still “welcoming” after Trump told a rally that “ Paris is no longer Paris” following a string of terrorist attacks.

Trump was asked by journalists about his previous comment on France being overrun with terrorists and being not fit to visit, Trump said Paris “is going to be just fine” mostly because France now has “a great” and “tough” president. Trump then joked to Macron that the French leader better not make him look bad.

Related: With UK sidelined, Macron forges unlikely alliance with Trump

The military pomp of the Trump visit reflected Macron’s new style of showmanship diplomacy, seen when he invited Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, to the Palace of Versailles. It is aimed at highlighting French prestige and grandeur and is aimed as much for his domestic audience as foreign leaders.

Macron and Trump will attend the Bastille Day military parade on the Champs Élysée on Friday morning, before the Trumps return to Washington.

Security for the visit was tight. Far from the official events, anti-Trump protesters were gathering at a “No Trump Zone” at Place de la République, where organisers linked to the Paris’s Nuit Debout movement said they would stand against Trump’s “anti-migrant positions, sexism, Islamophobia and racism”.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the leftwing party France Unbowed, said last month that Trump was “not at all welcome” on Bastille Day.

First Published: Jul 14, 2017 16:11 IST