French President Emmanuel Macron and President Donald Trump’s affection for each other was on full display during Macron’s three-day visit to the White House this week. But during an address to Congress on Wednesday, Macron clearly defined where the two part ways on the issues of climate change and the Iran nuclear deal.
Macron grounded the disagreements in overall shared objectives, such as a nuclear-free Iran, while highlighting that the two leaders have different views on how to achieve them, said Jeffrey Rathke, senior fellow and deputy director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
His remarks earned applause, particularly when Macron addressed climate change — “Our children deserve a planet still habitable in 25 years” — and Iran: “Our objective is clear. Iran shall never possess any nuclear weapons. Not now, not in five years, not in 10 years, never.”
Macron was speaking to a receptive audience, said Celia Belin, a visiting fellow at the Brooking Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe. “The Democrats see Macron as someone who can talk Trump into maybe changing his mind on some of the most global issues. And the Republicans see France as a valuable military ally who brings respect for their embattled American president.”
Here are other highlights from Macron’s speech, and what they could mean for the relationship between France and the U.S.
The Iran nuclear deal
“France will not leave the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], because we signed it,” Macron told lawmakers. He acknowledged that the agreement does not address all concerns. “But we should not abandon it without having something more substantial instead.”
President Trump has criticized the 2015 agreement made under the Obama administration for failing to address Iran’s ballistic missile program and their “malign” activities in the Middle East. Trump must decide by May 12 whether to re-impose sanctions on Iran, which could lead to the deal’s failure.
Macron has endorsed a parallel, new deal to include longer-term restrictions on nuclear activities and address the ballistic missile program and Iran’s regional influence.
Dalibor Rohac, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said he is skeptical that anything will happen before May 12 to change Trump’s mind, even with the added European pressure of a White House visit Friday by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“Judging by Trump’s rhetoric, I don’t expect [Macron] to succeed in keeping the U.S. in” the Iran nuclear deal, Rohac said. Iran has said it will not renegotiate the agreement. Trying to get even more concessions from Iran “might be a fool’s errand,” Rohac added.
However, Macron’s offer to formulate a separate deal might provide Trump with enough reason to maintain sanctions relief, Belin said, though she added that broadening the agreement seems impractical, unlikely and even risky.
Macron acknowledged the differences between French and U.S. policy on climate change, but he said local communities and businesses in both countries could work together to create new jobs and opportunities while safeguarding the Earth. “I am sure one day the United States will come back and join the Paris agreement,” he said.
Rathke noted that one line in particular from Macron — “Let us face it, there is no planet B” — got bipartisan applause. “It was not an in-your-face criticism of the Trump administration, but it was quite clear to anybody’s who’s been following the issues that he was staking out a very different position than the Trump administration and he was getting more than just a polite smattering of applause from Republicans and Democrats for it.”
Democrats might have appreciated Macron’s strong support for the Paris climate agreement, Rohac said. “But I don’t think it changed anybody’s mind about anything, and it’s certainly not going to change policy.”
“He needed to do it for his domestic and international audience, showing that he’s firm and he’s standing by his views on that issue compared to Trump,” Belin said.
“I do not share the fascination for new strong powers, the abandonment of freedom and the illusion of nationalism,” Macron said. He emphasized strengthening cooperation and using “results-based” multilateralism to address current global threats. “The United States is the one that invented this multilateralism. You are the one now who has to help to preserve and reinvent it.”
“He was decrying isolationism, nationalism and stoking anger and fear. Clearly, an implicit rebuke to some of the president’s attempts at mobilizing his base of support by playing on anger and fears,” Rathke said.
Macron, who never mentioned Trump by name in the speech, was referencing the broader wave in European politics toward nationalism and trying to make the case for more responsible leadership by Western democracies, Rohac said.
Belin thinks that Macron didn’t want to single out Trump on that point, but did want to say that “the winds are blowing in that direction for everybody” and that both countries should “try to counter this general global evolution.”
Macron’s message was “if you pursue policies of ‘America First’ or ‘France First,’ there will be other powers that are shaping tomorrow that are not in anybody’s interest” and go against freedom of democracy and rule of law, Rohac added.