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France’s Macron Prepares to Welcome Trump, an Unlikely Partner

Mr. Macron’s aides believe that working with America is inevitable and indispensable, and that for better or worse, it must be done through the current president.

The French president has already taken a softer line toward Mr. Trump than some of his European counterparts, notably Angela Merkel, the German chancellor.

His early hopes that Mr. Trump might adopt Europe’s position on climate change were dashed when Mr. Trump announced America’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate accord, which the French consider a pre-eminent diplomatic achievement.

Mr. Macron responded with a semi-mocking speech in English promising to “Make Our Planet Great Again,” and reiterated an ironic invitation to American scientists “fighting obscurantism,” as he put it during his campaign, to come to France.

Yet not long after, Mr. Macron’s spokesman, Christophe Castaner, emphasized the importance of not isolating Mr. Trump, of “bringing the president of the United States back into the circle.”

That attitude already has some French commentators accepting the idea that Mr. Macron “has become the privileged interlocutor” of Mr. Trump in Europe, said Nicolas Tenzer, who teaches at Sciences Po, a leading university for political science, and who leads a think tank here.

And this, in spite of the vast ideological and political gulf between the two. “In the Trump-Macron relationship, opposites attract,” said Denis Lacorne, a leading French specialist on America. “Macron has positions much closer to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He’s a pluralist. He’s got a world vision that’s exactly the opposite of Trump’s.”

The America that fascinates Mr. Macron — Silicon Valley and the culture of start-ups — is not Mr. Trump’s America, but Mr. Macron, a former investment banker, is a pragmatist, not an ideologue. “The English are bogged down in Brexit,” and Mr. Trump’s relations with Ms. Merkel are “a disaster,” Mr. Tenzer explained. Has Mr. Macron gained that position in regard to the United States leader “by his own will, or is it simply by default?” Mr. Lacorne asked.

“I think with Macron there is a capacity to decide and react very quickly,” Mr. Lacorne said. He noted that the French president had moved fast to fill the perceived Anglo-German void, even if it was too soon to declare a renaissance in the relationship between France and America, one of the world’s oldest geopolitical alliances.

Delphine Allès, who teaches international relations at the Université Paris-Est Créteil, called the prospect of a Trump-Macron partnership “very paradoxical, in that their visions of the world are completely opposite.”

She added, however, that “beyond their fundamental disagreements there may be a convergence in their will to present themselves as pragmatists, as deal makers.”

Mr. Macron’s first encounter with Mr. Trump, at a summit meeting in Brussels in May days after Mr. Macron took office, was notable for a handshake so lengthy and awkward that the two men appeared to be clenching their teeth. Social media lit up with speculation that Mr. Macron had snubbed Mr. Trump by passing him to embrace Ms. Merkel.

But the tension, if there was any, appeared to have subsided just a few weeks later, during a phone call about Syria, in which Mr. Macron extended an invitation to celebrate Bastille Day, and Mr. Trump accepted.

There was Mr. Macron grinning next to Mr. Trump in photographs at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Hamburg, Germany, last week, and physically reaching out to him in a way that few other European leaders would seem comfortable doing.

Mr. Macron’s entire career has been a leapfrog from one powerful older figure to the next — from his apprenticeship under one of the country’s leading philosophers, Paul Ricoeur, to his service as a very young assistant on economics to Jacques Attali, a leading government figure of the last quarter-century, to his stewardship of economic policy for the president he helped dislodge, François Hollande.

Mr. Macron’s outreach to Mr. Trump — he wants to “make sure the president of the U.S. is not isolated,” Mr. Castaner said — echoes that self-advancing path.

“One has the impression that Trump has been a little bit seduced by Macron,” Mr. Tenzer said.

Mr. Trump is to be welcomed in a ceremony at Les Invalides on Thursday afternoon, followed by a meeting at the Élysée Palace. Mr. Macron and his wife, Brigitte, will then dine with Mr. Trump and his wife, Melania, in a restaurant at the Eiffel Tower — a symbolically significant place that, as Macron aides suggested on Wednesday, was a way of asserting that Paris was back after the shock of terrorist attacks, Mr. Trump’s assertions to the contrary notwithstanding.

The domestic political risks are low for Mr. Macron, despite Mr. Trump’s unpopularity in France. The reaction to his invitation has been muted, with only the far left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon audibly complaining. “Mr. Trump is somebody violent. He’s got no business being here,” Mr. Mélenchon said.

But no major demonstrations are planned; their distaste for him aside, the French appear to be shrugging their collective shoulders over Mr. Trump as one more unfathomable American leader, just as they did with President George W. Bush, whose 2003 decision to invade Iraq chilled relations with France and Germany.

From the official French point of view, the Trump visit is all about honoring America’s decisive entry into World War I a hundred years ago, an intervention that saved France from defeat.

The two leaders will review a military parade on the Champs-Élysées on Friday, Bastille Day. French officials have been at pains to note that it was “normal” to invite the leader of a power whose troops are taking part in a major official ceremony.

Aides to Mr. Macron also noted that military cooperation and coordinated antiterrorism efforts between the two countries, in the Middle East and Africa, were as close as they had ever been. Mr. Trump and Mr. Macron will have a chance to discuss these common interests during the American president’s two-day visit, they said.

Mr. Macron is “above all a realist,” Mr. Tenzer said. Of Mr. Trump, he said, “you’ve got to continue to try to seduce him.” The attitude is: “We’ve got him as president, and we will just have to make do.”

Source: NYT > World

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