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France’s Macron dives into packed diplomatic schedule

Thierry Charlier, AFP | Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel speak together during the NATO summit at the NATO headquarters, in Brussels, on May 25, 2017.

President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday kicks off five days of high-level diplomatic meetings riddled with tests for France’s young leader, including face-to-face meetings with US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.


Macron, 39, is travelling to Brussels to participate in his first summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military alliance, only 10 days after being sworn into office. He will then spend Friday and Saturday at a G7 summit in Taormina, Italy, before hosting Putin at Versailles on Monday.

The French president had lunch with Trump in the Belgian capital before attending the NATO gathering, where he will meet many European political and military leaders for the first time.

Macron made strengthening European ties a cornerstone of his campaign, and his election victory earlier this month was celebrated in Brussels and across the continent. But many are eager to find out what else his foreign policy agenda holds.

He will also hold a separate meeting with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s divisive Turkish president, on the sidelines of the NATO summit.

Macron then flies to Taormina, a town on the island of Sicily, where he will have a chance to shake hands with and pose for photographs alongside the leaders of Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States.

His first diplomatic campaign as president will be rounded off when he welcomes Russia’s Putin to the Versailles chateau near the French capital. He will discuss civil conflicts in Ukraine, Syria and the threat of international terrorism with the Russian leader, who has been accused of meddling in the US and French presidential elections.

Trump in the spotlight

While Macron takes his first diplomatic steps, much of the media spotlight will be on Trump, the unpredictable US president who is concluding his first foreign trip with the NATO and G7 meetings.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump would press NATO leaders hard to spend more on defence and take on more of the burden of paying for the alliance, a message Trump has reiterated repeatedly before and after entering the White House.

Trump once dismissed NATO as "obsolete" for failing to tackle Islamist terror and focusing on Russia instead. But Trump has since backed away from his comments.

Trump wants NATO to join the battle against the Islamic State (IS) group, Tillerson told reporters on Air Force One.

NATO ambassadors agreed on Wednesday for the Western military alliance to join the US-led, 68-nation coalition against the IS group in Syria and Iraq, paving the way for a formal endorsement by NATO leaders.

There may be tension with EU leaders, given Trump’s earlier apparent disdain for the bloc. In January, Trump labelled the European Union a “vehicle for Germany”, called Britain’s decision to leave the bloc a “great thing” and said more countries would follow.

But EU officials were pleased he was fitting in the visit at all and noted that his critical tone had changed. Trump told Reuters in February the EU was “wonderful”.

EU leaders may be looking for hints from Trump about the US trade relationship after the president kicked off plans to renegotiate the NAFTA agreement with Canada and Mexico.


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