Bromance is strictly personal as Trumps welcome the Macrons

Friendship between two presidents apparent, but differences over Iran and climate remain

US president Donald Trump and French president Emmanuel Macron walk to the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, during the first state visit of Trump’s presidency. Photograph: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

US president Donald Trump and French president Emmanuel Macron walk to the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, during the first state visit of Trump’s presidency. Photograph: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

 

There may have been a full-scale military salute to welcome the new royal baby in London on Tuesday, but US president Donald Trump showed that he can compete with the British when it comes to pageantry.  

As the cannons rang out in Hyde Park to welcome the fifth in line to the throne, across the Atlantic the grounds of the White House began to tremble as a 21-gun salute boomed through the city.

The White House South Lawn was a sea of red, white and blue as Donald and Melania Trump hosted the first state visit of Trump’s presidency.

A military band entertained the invited group of dignitaries, school children and the press as we awaited the arrival of the two leaders. Spirals of flowers in the colours of the French and American flags decorated the White House fountain.

After the performance of both national anthems, the US president looked pleased as punch as he accompanied his friend Macron to review the troops. Trump himself attended military school (though he famously was exempted from service in Vietnam due to a problem with bone spurs in the foot). In fact, he was so wowed by last year’s Bastille Day celebrations in Paris that he is said to be considering hosting his own military parade in Washington.

Despite much talk of common challenges, it was difficult to see much common ground between the two presidents, particularly on Iran

As the men took to the podium, the unlikely allies spoke fondly of the bonds between the two countries. Macron quoted de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America; Trump spoke of the 60,000 American soldiers who “rest for eternity beneath the peaceful fields and hills of the French countryside”.

Slight dig

After a slight dig at America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, Macron rerouted the speech to express his thanks to “cher Donald”.

“Viva l’Amerique; Viva la France, ” he concluded triumphantly as the impeccably dressed Brigitte Macron and Melania Trump smiled and waved to the crowd, more like regal hostesses than spouses of the leaders of the world’s most famous Republics.

But the bonhomie had limits. Within minutes of the ceremony’s close, both men made their way across the paths to the West Wing and into the Oval Office, while their wives headed to the National Gallery to view a new exhibition of paintings by French artist Cézanne.

French president Emmanuel Macron kisses the hand of his wife, French first lady Brigitte Macron, as they are welcomed by US President Donald Trump and US first lady Melania Trump at the White House. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
French president Emmanuel Macron kisses the hand of his wife, French first lady Brigitte Macron, as they are welcomed by US President Donald Trump and US first lady Melania Trump at the White House. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Although Trump lovingly brushed dandruff off the French president’s suit – to make his friend “perfect,” as he put it – the bromance was strictly personal.

Trump abandoned the diplomatic niceties as he denounced the Iran nuclear deal as “insane” and “ridiculous”. As the two men joined the US cabinet, Trump denounced his country’s trade deficit with the European Union as “unacceptable”. Macron spoke vaguely about the importance of working together.

The tone continued at the joint press conference, which had to be relocated to the East Room of the White House from the Rose Garden, due to poor weather. 

Common ground

Despite much talk of common challenges, it was difficult to see much common ground between the two presidents, particularly on Iran. While Trump drew parallels between his electoral victory and that of the French president, their policy differences were wide – not least on foreign policy and trade.

Whether the personal relationship could generate any real policy progress before Macron heads to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to address the joint houses of Congress was unclear.

The Trumps were due to host Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron at a state dinner on Tuesday night where the menu was set to be spring lamb served with jambalaya, the iconic Southern dish from Louisiana which was influenced by the French in the region. Whether this attempt at cultural connection will translate into further substantive Franco-US co-operation remains to be seen.

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