President Trump is rolling out the red carpet for French President Emmanuel Macron during a state visit this week, returning the favor for the dazzling welcome Trump received in Paris last year.
The three-day visit will show off the unlikely friendship between Trump and Macron, who speak by phone frequently and recently launched a coordinated military strike on Syria.
But beneath the flag-draped show of friendship, Macron and Trump disagree on several key issues — a dynamic that could put their relationship to the test.
The president invited his French counterpart to fly with him on Marine One to George Washington’s Mt. Vernon estate on Monday evening for a private tour and dinner with their wives.
Macron will receive a resplendent greeting on the South Lawn on Tuesday morning, complete with a brass band and review of the troops, before meeting with Trump in the Oval Office and being the guest of honor at the U.S. president’s first state dinner.
“What you do have are two leaders who have a great deal of respect for one another, who have a great friendship,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday.
Few would have predicted such a bond to develop between Trump and Macron, whose election victory last May was seen as a rebuke to Trump’s “America First” brand of politics.
Their awkward first meeting at last year’s NATO summit in Brussels, when they engaged in a lengthy, white-knuckle handshake, seemed to portend years of tensions over world affairs.
The 40-year-old internationalist Macron has instead sought to win over the 71-year-old nationalist Trump, even though Trump is deeply unpopular in France.
Trump was so wowed by the military parade there on Bastille Day last July, during which he was Macron’s guest of honor, that he ordered the U.S. armed forces to explore staging one of their own.
Macron appeared last weekend on “Fox News Sunday” to explain that he and Trump share more in common than people think.
“I think we have this very special relationship because both of us are probably maverick of the systems on both sides,” said Macron, who, like Trump, had never before held elected office.
While in Washington, Macron is facing pressure to show that his efforts to cozy up to Trump will result in policy wins for France.
The French leader has sought to boost his country’s standing in Europe, positioning it as a prime defender of the liberal international order that Trump has denounced.
Macron is expected to push Trump to make concessions on urgent problems, including the Iran nuclear deal, the conflict in Syria and burgeoning trade disputes. If he fails, he could face tough questions back home.
“I think the stakes are higher this time,” said Jeff Lightfoot, a fellow at the Atlantic Council. “People are looking to see whether his approach of forming a close bond with President Trump is going to pay dividends.”
The most urgent goal for Macron will be to convince Trump to remain in the Iran nuclear deal, which appears to be an increasingly tough sell.
Trump must decide by May 12 whether to extend sanctions relief under the Obama-era agreement, which France helped broker, or take steps toward pulling the U.S. out.
The U.S. and its European partners have been negotiating fixes to the deal, but some officials have grown concerned that Trump might decide to exit entirely, which would risk torpedoing the pact.
“The president has been extremely clear that he thinks it’s a bad deal. That certainly has not changed,” Sanders told reporters.
Macron and other European leaders are also seeking a permanent exemption from the steel and aluminum tariffs that Trump announced last month, a message that German Chancellor Angela Merkel plans to drive home during her separate visit with Trump later this week.
They may also talk through their differences on Syria. Macron declared earlier this month he had persuaded Trump to keep U.S. troops there ahead of their joint missile strike, which also involved the United Kingdom.
The White House quickly denied that was the case, stressing that Trump still wants to withdraw ground forces fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in the country.
There is little hope that Macron can persuade Trump to change his views on the Paris climate agreement. The president last year announced he would exit the 2015 pact, saying, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
With no major policy breakthroughs expected, the visit is intended to display the friendship between the two leaders and the historic ties between the U.S. and France.
Macron, a former young leader with the French-American Foundation, is expected to speak about those themes during his Wednesday address to a session of Congress.
The visit will be full of other symbolic acts.
Macron, Trump and their wives planted an oak sapling from Belleau Wood, the site of one of the first battles of World War I to feature U.S. troops. The tree was planted on the South Lawn.
The state dinner menu will serve as a “showcase of the best of America’s cuisines and traditions, with nuances of French influences,” according to first lady Melania Trump’s office.
Guests will dine on a rack of spring lamb and Carolina gold rice jambalaya “cooked in a New Orleans tradition” and sip a selection of three American wines made with French techniques.