French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Washington on Monday for a three-day visit heavy on symbolism and substance as Donald Trump hosts the first official state visit of his presidency.
Of all Europe’s leaders, Macron has been most successful in building a relationship with Trump over the past year, winning him over in part with a lavish visit to Paris in July. He wasn’t able to dissuade the U.S. president from pulling out of the Paris climate accord, but he is seeking to be more successful in keeping Trump in the Iran nuclear deal.
Trump, meanwhile, is looking to cement the trans-Atlantic partnership by serving up a grand state visit, rivaling his reception in France last year, where he attended Bastille Day celebrations and was feted with a military parade along the Champs-Élysées and dinner at the Eiffel Tower.
On Monday evening, Trump, Macron and their wives will tour Washington’s monuments in the Marine One helicopter and land at Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, for a dinner.
“This state visit is very important for our people and very important for us,” Macron said Monday, shortly after arriving at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. “We will have the opportunity to discuss of a lot of bilateral issues and to discuss about our security, about trade, and a lot of military issues that are important for our countries and beyond our two countries. This is a great honor and I think a very important state visit given the moment of our current environment.”
The state visit officially begins Tuesday morning, with a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House featuring 500 members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, military families and students from a French immersion school in Maryland have been invited to attend. The state dinner Tuesday night will feature American food with French influences, including goat cheese gateau, rack of spring lamb, Carolina Gold rice jambalaya, and a nectarine tart and creme fraiche ice cream.
While pomp and circumstance will take up much of Trump and Macron’s two-day agenda, the leaders have a long list of issues to discuss.
Macron’s record of securing policy concessions is mixed. He pointed to this month’s missile strikes against Syria as a victory for French diplomacy, but his aides last week played down expectations that he might persuade Trump to change course on other issues.
Still, Macron heads into the visit as an important emissary for his fellow European leaders, especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May. A topic is the Iran nuclear deal, and the leaders have spent months coordinating with one another on potential side agreements they hope will convince Trump to remain part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
“Is this agreement perfect and this JCPOA a perfect thing for our relationship with Iran? No,” Macron said on “Fox News Sunday.” “But for nuclear, what do you have as a better option? I don’t see it. What is the what-if scenario or your plan B? I don’t have any Plan B for nuclear against Iran. So that’s a question we will discuss.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wouldn’t say whether she thought Macron would be able to change Trump’s mind on Iran and other issues. “What you do have are two leaders who have a great deal of respect for one another, who have a great friendship. Certainly both have a great deal of interest in doing what is best for their country,” she told reporters Monday. “I think we can expect this to be a very productive and very positive state visit for both countries.”
Trump’s experience sending his forces into combat alongside their French allies this month may strengthen Macron’s chances of making progress on other issues, analysts said. France’s position as the EU’s foremost military power gives Macron an advantage over Chancellor Angela Merkel, who’s faced criticism from the Trump administration for Germany’s reluctance to join military action, its low defense spending, and its trade surplus with the U.S.
Trade will be Macron’s other challenge. He was in Berlin last week to coordinate his arguments with Merkel, who will visit the White House on Friday.
European manufacturers are already concerned about the knock-on effects of Trump’s trade policy. Macron and Merkel will both argue that unilateral moves on trade policy are destructive, as they try to persuade Trump not to sabotage the World Trade Organization’s rules-based trading system. Trump wants the Europeans to ease the barriers to U.S. exporters seeking access to their markets.