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Emmanuel Macron

French President Macron charms both US parties with impassioned speech to Congress, challenging Trump’s agenda

On trade, climate and Iran, the visiting French leader laid out the case for alternatives to the White House’s positions

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 April, 2018, 12:15pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 April, 2018, 10:30pm

Before French President Emmanuel Macron delivered an address at a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday, the headlines about his trip to Washington centred on his apparent “bromance” with US President Donald Trump. On Tuesday, the duo engaged in a series of physical embraces and celebrated both their personal rapport as well as the “unbreakable” bonds between France and the United States.

But on Wednesday, as his three-day visit drew to a close, Macron shifted the story dramatically. In his speech to American lawmakers, he offered a comprehensive rejection of the main tenets of Trumpism, excoriating “extreme nationalism” and protectionism, championing climate-change science and defending the international liberal order.

“You can play with anger and fear for a time, but they do not construct anything,” Macron said, alluding to the themes that fuel right-wing nationalist movements in the West.

Macron delivered an impassioned call for multilateralism and US engagement in the world, saying it was “an essential part of our confidence in the future.”

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Macron recalled the long history of US-French relations, and the countries’ shared values and culture in areas as diverse as democracy and freedom, human and civil rights, literature, jazz and the “Me Too” movement. But, he warned, “this is a time of determination and courage. What we cherish is at stake. What we love is in danger. We have no choice but to prevail. And together we shall prevail.”

Much of what he said, although couched in stirring and global terms, posed a direct challenge to the Trump administration and to the US president with whom Macron has said he has a special relationship.

Macron expressed hope that the United States would re-enter the Paris climate accord, which Trump exited early in his administration.

“Some people think that securing current industries and their jobs is more urgent than transforming our economies to meet the challenge of global change,” he said. “I hear … but we must find a transition to a low-carbon economy. What is the meaning of our life, really, if we work and live destroying the planet, while sacrificing the future of our children?”

Macron also called for resolving of trade disputes through negotiation and the World Trade Organisation, indirectly criticising Trump’s imposition of tariffs. “I believe we can build the right answers … by negotiating through the WTO and building cooperative solutions,” he said.

What we cherish is at stake. What we love is in danger. We have no choice but to prevail
Emmanuel Macron

“We wrote these rules,” he said. “We should follow them.” France and the European Union are seeking exemptions from steel and aluminium tariffs due to be imposed May 1.

More broadly, the free world needed to “push aside” the forces of “isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism,” Macron said, and to “shape our common answers to the global threats that we are facing” with an updated multilateralism, lest the post-World War II institutions that “you built,” including the United Nations and Nato, be destroyed.

“This requires more than ever the United States’ involvement, as your role was decisive in creating and safeguarding the free world. The United States is the one who invented this multilateralism; you are the one who has to help to preserve and reinvent it,” he said.

On Iran, he repeated his support for the nuclear deal, even as he outlined a four-part “comprehensive” strategy to address upheaval in the Middle East, even if Trump opts out of the agreement.

“Our objective is clear. Iran shall never possess any nuclear weapons,” he said as the chamber rose with applause. “Not now. Not in five years. Not in 10 years. Never.”

“But this policy should never lead us to war in the Middle East,” he said. “Let us not replicate past mistakes … Let us not be naive on one side … Let us not create new wars on the other side.

“There is an existing framework, the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] to control the activity of Iran. We signed it, at the initiative of the United States. We signed it, both the United States and France. That is why we cannot say we should get rid of it like that.”

Trump, who has called the agreement “the worst deal” in history and has said he will determine by May 12 whether to withdraw the United States from it, will have to make his own decision, Macron said.

“But what I want to do … is work on a more comprehensive deal” that would address Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its expansionism in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, as well as its nuclear programme, he said.

In a solo news conference before his return home Wednesday night, Macron said that he was under no illusions about Trump’s views on the Iran deal. “I don’t know what his decision will be, but a rational look at … comments he has made … indicate to me he will not do his utmost to preserve it,” he said. While he was still “advocating” retention of the deal, he said, “I’m not a masochist.”

Asked how he could say he was “extremely pleased” about his three-day visit here and praise his warm relationship with Trump while outlining positions opposite to those of the US president on climate, trade and a host of other issues, Macron said: “I think it’s life. It’s the same thing in all families.”