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Donald Trump

Donald Trump lashes ‘insane’ Iran deal but can Emmanuel Macron change his mind?

Macron has emerged as something of a ‘Trump whisperer’ at a time when the US president’s relationships with other European leaders are more strained

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 April, 2018, 10:56pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2018, 10:27pm

US President Donald Trump pilloried the Iran nuclear deal as “a disaster” and “insane” as he hosted French President Emmanuel Macron in the Oval Office on Tuesday, puncturing a carefully choreographed display of pomp and camaraderie.

The US leader groused that the accord – signed three years ago by the United States, Iran, Europe, Russia and China – does nothing to tackle Tehran’s missile programme or support for militant groups across the Middle East.

Macron is in Washington, in part, to convince Trump not to walk away from the deal and scuttle years-worth of hard won diplomatic gains. Trump faces a May 12 deadline to decide on the fate of the accord.

France and with it, Europe, and the United States have an appointment with history
Emmanuel Macron

Earlier, Trump praised the strength of America’s oldest alliance and said the relationship he forged with Macron at the start of his presidency was a testament to the “enduring friendship that binds our two nations”. He thanked the French leader for his “steadfast partnership” in the recent missile strike in response to the chemical attack in Syria.

Macron told Trump that together the US and France would defeat terrorism, curtail weapons of mass destruction in North Korea and Iran.

“History is calling us. It is urging our people to find the fortitude that has guided us in the most difficult of times,” Macron said. “France and with it, Europe, and the United States have an appointment with history.”

Iran, however, insisted it is sticking to the nuclear deal and will not negotiate over its missile programme. On Wednesday, President Hassan Rowhani questioned the legitimacy of demands for a fresh nuclear agreement after Trump and Macron called for a “new” deal.

“Together with a leader of a European country they say: ‘We want to decide on an agreement reached by seven parties’. What for? With what right?” Rowhani said in a speech in which he took aim at Trump in particular.

“You are just a businessman … you have no experience in politics or law or international agreements,” he said. “How can he pass judgments on international affairs?”

Rowhani insisted that by agreeing to the nuclear accord in 2015 Tehran “showed goodwill to the world”.

The social highlight of Macron’s visit, the first state visit of the Trump presidency, comes Tuesday night with a lavish state dinner at the White House. About 150 guests are expected to dine on rack of lamb and nectarine tart and enjoy an after-dinner performance by the Washington National Opera. On Monday night, the leaders took a helicopter tour of Washington landmarks and had dinner at the Potomac River home of George Washington in Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Tuesday’s meetings follow the collaboration by the US, France and Britain in missile strikes in Syria earlier this month to respond to the alleged chemical weapons attack. The US has 2,000 troops in Syria assisting local Arab and Kurdish fighters against IS, though Trump has resisted a deeper US involvement and is eager to withdraw completely from Syria.

Macron’s pomp-filled three-day visit to Washington underscores the importance that both sides attach to the relationship: Macron, who calls Trump often, has emerged as something of a “Trump whisperer” at a time when the American president’s relationships with other European leaders are more strained. Trump, who attaches great importance to the optics of pageantry and ceremony, chose to honour Macron with the first state visit of his administration as he woos the French president.

Strong handshakes all round as Macron, Trump forge bond during France’s Bastille Day

For all their camaraderie, Macron and Trump disagree on some fundamental issues, including the multinational nuclear deal, which is aimed at restricting Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. Trump, sceptical of the pact’s effectiveness, has been eager to pull out as a May 12 deadline nears. Macron says he is not satisfied with the situation in Iran and thinks the agreement is imperfect, but he has argued for the US sticking with the deal on the grounds that there is not yet a “Plan B.”

Trump ended his first year in office without receiving a foreign leader on a state visit, the first president in nearly 100 years to fail to do so. He was Macron’s guest last July at the annual Bastille Day military parade in the centre of Paris. Macron and his wife also took Trump and first lady Melania Trump on a tour of Napoleon’s tomb and whisked them up in the Eiffel Tower for dinner overlooking the City of Light.

Macron was welcomed back to the White House on Tuesday with a traditional arrival ceremony featuring nearly 500 members of the US military and a booming 21-gun salute. He was also attending a State Department lunch hosted by vice-president Mike Pence.

The state dinner honouring Macron will be served in the State Dining Room, which will feature more than 2,500 stems of white sweet pea flowers and nearly 1,000 stems of white lilac. Separately, more than 1,200 branches of cherry blossoms will adorn the majestic Cross Hall.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse