Iran nuclear deal set to test Macron-Trump ‘bromance’ on historic visit
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The fate of the Iran nuclear deal tops the agenda as French President Emmanuel Macron arrives in the US on Monday for the first official state visit hosted by President Donald Trump.
Buoyed by a much-vaunted personal friendship with Trump cultivated over Eiffel Tower dinners and jointly viewing military marches, Macron flies into Washington, DC, Monday at the start of a three-day visit that will include a joint meeting of the US Congress and a "private couples dinner" at Mount Vernon, the home of US founding father George Washington.
But while Macron has carefully cultivated what the press has called a “bromance” with Trump, the friendship is set to be tested over the thorny issue of the Iran nuclear deal, which was signed by the US, Iran, France, China, Russia, the UK, Germany and the EU in 2015.
Trump has set a May 12 deadline for the Europeans to "fix" the agreement that curbs Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, failing which, he has threatened to walk away from the landmark deal.
But in an interview with US TV station Fox News on the eve of his departure for Washington, Macron stressed, once again, that there was no “plan B” alternative for the Iran deal, which is officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
French leader @EmmanuelMacron tells @FoxNewsSunday he has a 'very special relationship' with President @realDonaldTrump, says they both followed unusual paths to political power. Watch the full interview today at 2p and 7p ET on Fox News Channel. https://t.co/McwXwXqfX1 pic.twitter.com/DIzWniRIRgFox News (@FoxNews) April 22, 2018
“What do you have as a better option?” Macron asked Fox News anchor Chris Wallace. “I don't see it. What is the what-if scenario or your plan B? I don't have any plan B for [the] nuclear [deterrent] against Iran.”
While noting that he was “not satisfied with the situation with Iran” including its ballistic missile testing and that he would like to “contain Iran’s influence in the region,” Macron stressed that, “I just want to say, on nuclear, let's preserve a framework because it's better than a North Korean type of situation.”
Trade war ‘doesn’t work’
The visit comes weeks after the US, France and Britain launched joint military strikes against Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s chemical weapons installations in Syria after an alleged poison gas attack in Douma in Eastern Ghouta.
Macron said that if the international community withdraws from Syria, it will leave the country in the grip of the Iran regime and Assad.
“And they will prepare the new war,” he warned. “They will fuel the new terrorists.”
“Even after the end of the war against ISIS (Islamic State group), the US, France, our allies, all the countries of the region – even Russian and Turkey – will have a very important role to play in order to create this new Syria,” he said.
Macron went on to discuss US plans for imposing new steel and aluminum tariffs, reiterating that Europe should be spared from these duties, just days before a temporary grace period is due to expire.
"I hope ... he will decide for an exemption for the European Union," Macron said.
"You don't make trade war with your allies," he added.
Trump announced last month the United States would impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, claiming foreign imports were harming US national security by undermining the domestic production needed for military readiness.
A temporary exemption for the largest foreign sources of the metals – including Europe, Canada and Mexico – is due to expire on May 1.
US and European trade officials last month announced Washington and Brussels had launched a series of talks to resolve the dispute but whether any progress has been made remains unclear.
"He says exemptions till May first," Macron said. "Let's see what he will decide on May first. I just say, Where are your priorities?"
"If you make war against everybody – you make trade war against China, trade war against Europe, war in Syria, war against Iran – come on, it doesn't work," Macron said.
He added: "We are the allies."
'Don't be naive' on Russia
Macron also warned against showing any weakness towards Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he said was determined to interfere in democratic processes abroad.
"He's strong and smart. But don't be naive. He's obsessed by interference in our democracies," Macron told Fox News Sunday ahead of his departure for the United States, where Russia stands accused of meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
"I do believe that we should never be weak with President Putin. When you are weak, he uses it," Macron said in the English-language interview.
"And it's fine. That's a game, that he made a lot of fake news. He has a very strong propaganda, and he intervenes everywhere ... to fragilise our democracies. Because he thinks it's good for his country," Macron said.
"I think he's a very strong man, he's a strong president. He wants a great Russia," added the French leader. "He is extremely tough with minorities and his opponents, with an idea of democracy which is not mine."
"I respect him. I know him. I'm lucid. I want to work with him, knowing everything about that," Macron said, who described himself as having a "permanent discussion" with Putin, although they were "disaligned on a lot of things".
Relations with Russia will be one of the issues topping the agenda this week with Trump, whose time in office has been clouded by suspicion that his campaign conspired with Russia to tilt the election in his favour and by his own ambivalent attitude to Moscow.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)