This week’s French President Emmanuel Macron visit to Washington is the first state visit for President Trump since he took office in January 2017. There are several matters on the agenda for two leaders to discuss, namely Russia, North Korea, trade, climate change, and counterterrorism, but by far the most important topic will be the future of the Iranian deal, signed in 2015 by the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, Germany, and China. The deal allowed Tehran access to the international markets in exchange for limiting its nuclear program. Macron will also try to secure a promise from President Trump that he will not act on his pledge to withdraw US troops from Syria, as this will allow Iran to establish a firm stronghold in the war-torn country.
President Trump has been a long-time critic of the Iranian deal and once he was in office has made several statements about it, mostly threatening to withdraw from it, unless it is fixed. The list of things that need to be adjusted is fairly long, but the biggest concern is with lack of prohibition on Iran’s ballistic tests and its involvement in Syria. American allies in Europe are vehemently opposed to the cancellation of the deal and have stated that they will keep their end of the bargain, regardless of Washington’s actions. Unless an arrangement is made, it will represent the largest breach in trans-Atlantic relationships in history.
The consequences of the Iranian deal falling can be disastrous and plunge the entire region into insecurity. Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has stated that his country will increase it “nuclear activities” if that happens. That is why every effort has been made in order to keep the deal alive and address any concerns the White House may have. So far, four documents have been created, based on Mr. Trump’s remarks.
Another critic of the deal, Mike Pompeo, is poised to become the next American secretary of state. At one point, he advocated for the bombing campaign aimed at Iranian nuclear sites but has dialed down his criticism, stating the need for the diplomatic solution.
The key player in keeping the Iranian deal alive – and according to many the only person capable of persuading Trump to play ball – is French President. In a highly unlikely turn of event, Macron and Trump seem to have bonded in a manner that is often described as bromance by the American media. The credit for the relationship goes mostly to Macron and his personality. He is often described as the ultimate pragmatists, a trait that has allowed him not only to seduce Trump but to be the only European leader on talking terms with Vladimir Putin. But what could possibly a 40-year old French and a 71-year old American have in common?
It all started with a handshake that almost turned into a wrestling match. Macron later stated that he was prepared for the Trump’s handshake by watching his meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister Abe.
It continued during the Bastille Day, a French national holiday. Macron invited President Trump and treated him with highest honors, complete with a front row seat for the traditional military parade. The two now talk on the phone almost weekly and President Trump is eager to host Macron in the same fashion he experienced in Paris, together with a dinner in Eiffel Tower. He will return the favor at Mount Vernon.
French President will have a busy stay in Washington, with several meetings (including one on one with President Trump) and a lecture at the Washington University. Macron hopes to reach an agreement on a joint response in case Assad uses chemical weapons again, while Trump will push him to increase French involvement in Syria. Both leaders have expressed a need to develop a unified front against Chinese expansion in Asia and that is something that will feature prominently in these talks. How to deal with Russia is also an important topic, especially to Macron and Merkel, who will visit Washington on Friday. Both European leaders will try to persuade Trump to give up his proposed aluminum and steel tariffs or at least exempt European Union countries from it.
The main goal of European diplomacy seems to be keeping the US engaged and not letting it sink into isolationism, heavily prominent in Trump’s campaign. Pulling America closer to Europe is Macron’s main objective, and among European leaders, he seems uniquely qualified to achieve it. According to his own words: “I’m an easy guy. I’m very simple. I’m straightforward.” Macron continued “It’s too complicated if you make war on everybody. You make trade war on China, trade war against Europe. War in Syria. War against Iran. Come on, it doesn’t work. You need allies. We are the ally.”