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‘Thank you, dear Donald’: Why Macron invited Trump to France

By James McAuley

July 15, 2017 at 4:00 AM

French President Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with President Trump as first lady Melania Trump looks on after the traditional Bastille Day military parade in Paris, July 14. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

PARIS — This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

If the potential for a productive relationship between President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron initially seemed a scant possibility, Trump's whirlwind Bastille Day visit to France suggested that the two may be en route to establishing a partnership of the kind the U.S. president currently shares with few other world leaders, especially in Western Europe.

Despite Trump's staggering unpopularity in France — not to mention the outrage over Macron's decision to invite his American counterpart to this country's signature national holiday — the newly minted French president appeared to make a daring gamble. With the United States increasingly isolated on the global stage, Macron sought to position himself as Trump's principal interlocutor in a region that has shown the White House little but disdain.

At least for the moment, that role is Macron's for the taking — and he may succeed in securing it.

In a rare news conference Thursday — in which each president took two questions — Trump made no secret of his delight at Macron's invitation.

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U.S. President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed Russia, China, the Paris climate agreement and terrorism at a joint news conference on July 13. (Reuters)

"France is America's first and oldest ally. A lot of people don't know that," he said. "It was a long time ago, but we are together. And I think together, perhaps, more so than ever. The relationship is very good."

Despite the historic "special relationship" between the United States and Britain, Trump has shown little interest in British affairs since his inauguration, further delaying a traditional visit to the country until 2018. And although German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently tried to patch things up with Trump at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, she has done little to hide her distaste.

Related: [Trump and Macron, once cast as adversaries, show they have much in common]

Enter Macron, an outspoken advocate of globalization and an "ever closer" European Union who initially seemed an anti-Trump figure on the world stage — and even a temporary antagonist of the U.S. president.

After Trump essentially supported Macron's rival, the far-right Marine Le Pen, in this year's French presidential election, Macron then strong-armed Trump in a six-second handshake when the two men met for the first time in Brussels in May.

The next week, Trump withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, carefully enunciating that he was "elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris." Macron responded — in English — in a speech in which he urged people the world over to "Make our planet great again," a clear play on Trump's campaign slogan.

The Paris visit, however, seemed to establish the inklings of a working relationship between these two seemingly incompatible figures.

U.S President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania arrive at Orly airport, south of Paris, Thursday July 13, 2017. President Trump will later meet with French President Emmanuel Macron. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
US President Donald Trump (R) salutes after disembarking form Air Force One with First Lady Melania Trump upon arrival at Paris Orly airport on July 13, 2017, beginning a 24-hour trip that coincides with France's national day and the 100th anniversary of US involvement in World War I. Donald Trump arrived in Paris for a presidential visit filled with Bastille Day pomp and which the White House hopes will offer respite from rolling scandal backing home. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEBSAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
US First Lady Melania Trump and US President Donald Trump walk to the motorcade upon arrival at Paris Orly airport on July 13, 2017, beginning a 24-hour trip that coincides with France's national day and the 100th anniversary of US involvement in World War I. Donald Trump arrived in Paris for a presidential visit filled with Bastille Day pomp and which the White House hopes will offer respite from rolling scandal backing home. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEBSAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump leaves his car as he arrives for a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
French President Emmanuel Macron, left, walks as U.S President Donald Trump waves before a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Thursday, July 13, 2017. Macron said Thursday it is "obvious and indispensable" to have exchanges with U.S. President Donald Trump as the two leaders were set to meet to try to push past major differences and find common ground on security, defense and other issues. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Emmanuel Macron, France's president, left, and U.S. President Donald Trump, shake hands while posing for photographs at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, on Thursday, July 13, 2017. The awkward relationship between Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron that began with a white-knuckle handshake and the U.S. president's repudiation of the Paris climate accords gets a chance for a reset with Trump?s two-day visit to France. Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg
U.S President Donald Trump waves as he arrives at the Elysee Palace before his meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, in Paris, Thursday, July 13, 2017. Trump will be the parade's guest of honor to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I. U.S. troops will open the parade Friday as is traditional for the guest of honor. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
French President Emmanuel Macron and US President Donald Trump listen to the national anthems during an official welcoming ceremony in the courtyard of the Invalides in Paris, Thursday, July 13, 2017. Trump is in Paris for a high profile two-day visit during which he will be the guest of honour of his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron at the annual Bastille Day parade. (AP Photo / Matthieu Alexandre)
US President Donald Trump (L) with his hand on his heart, French President Emmanuel Macron (C) and Military governor of Paris and French army general Bruno Le Ray (R), listen to national anthems during a welcome ceremony at Les Invalides in Paris, on July 13, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / YVES HERMANYVES HERMAN/AFP/Getty Images
Military governor of Paris and French army general Bruno Le Ray (2ndL), US President Donald Trump (C) and French President Emmanuel Macron (R) review troops, during a welcome ceremony at Les Invalides in Paris, on July 13, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEBSAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and U.S. President Donald Trump (R) speak as they leave Les Invalides museum in Paris, France, July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Ian Langsdon/Pool
French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Donald Trump attend a welcoming ceremony at the Invalides in Paris, France, July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
epa06085470 French President Emmanuel Macron (2-R) and his wife Brigitte (R) tour Marechal Foch's Tomb with US President Donald J. Trump (2-L) and First Lady Melania Trump (L) at Les Invalides museum in Paris, France, 13 July 2017. US President Donald J. Trump is on a two-day visit in Paris. EPA/IAN LANGSDON / POOL MAXPPP OUT
(From L) US President Donald Trump, First lady Melania Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, and his wife Brigitte Macron listen to the Director of the Army Museum, David Guillet (C), as they visit Napoleon Bonapartes tomb at Les Invalides in Paris, on July 13, 2017. Donald Trump arrived in Paris for a presidential visit filled with Bastille Day pomp and which the White House hopes will offer respite from rolling scandal backing home. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / IAN LANGSDONIAN LANGSDON/AFP/Getty Images
French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Donald Trump (L) react as they meet at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, and others, participate in an expanded bilateral meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Thursday, July 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
US First Lady Melania Trump (C) poses along with director of Paris' public assistance hospitals AP-HP Martin Hirsch (L) and staff members during a visit to the Necker Hospital in Paris, on July 13, 2017. US President arrived in Paris for a presidential visit filled with Bastille Day pomp and which the White House hopes will offer respite from rolling scandal backing home. / AFP PHOTO / Martin BUREAUMARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images
PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 13: United States First Lady Melania Trump speaks with children as she visits Necker Hospital for children on July 13, 2017 in Paris, France. The United States of America President Donald Trump and his wife are on a 2 days visit to Paris. (Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (L) and French President Emmanuel Macron (R), walk towards US First Lady Melania Trump (up L) and Brigitte Macron (up R), during a welcome ceremony at Les Invalides in Paris, on July 13, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEBSAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron participate in a joint news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Thursday, July 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
U.S President Donald Trump gestures during a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Thursday, July 13, 2017. President Donald Trump is saluting the United States' "unbreakable" bond with France. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
US President Donald Trump (L) and French President Emmanuel Macron (R) shake hand at the end of a press conference following meetings at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on July 13, 2017, during the US president's 24-hour trip that coincides with France's national day and the 100th anniversary of US involvement in World War I. Donald Trump arrived in Paris for a presidential visit filled with Bastille Day pomp and which the White House hopes will offer respite from rolling scandal backing home. / AFP PHOTO / ALAIN JOCARDALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. First Lady Melania Trump and Brigitte Macron, wife of French President Macron, visit Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Martin Bureau/Pool
US First Lady Melania Trump and French president's wife Brigitte Macron attend a boat on a vedette de Bercy down the river Seine as it is escorted by a dinguee with French police officers, in Paris, on July 13, 2017, during US president's 24-hour trip that coincides with France's national day and the 100th anniversary of US involvement in World War I. Donald Trump arrived in Paris for a presidential visit filled with Bastille Day pomp and which the White House hopes will offer respite from rolling scandal backing home. / AFP PHOTO / JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARDJEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD/AFP/Getty Images
US First Lady Melania Trump (C-R) and French president's wife Brigitte Macron (C-L) waving as they leave after a boat trip down the River Seine in Paris, on July 13, 2017, during US president's 24-hour trip that coincides with France's national day and the 100th anniversary of US involvement in World War I. Donald Trump arrived in Paris for a presidential visit filled with Bastille Day pomp and which the White House hopes will offer respite from rolling scandal backing home. / AFP PHOTO / GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELTGEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images
PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 13: Crowd watching as United States First Lady Melania Trump and French First Lady Brigitte Macron leave the dock after a boat ride on the Seine river on July 13, 2017 in Paris, France. The United States of America President Donald Trump and his wife are on a 2 day visit to Paris. (Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)
U.S. First Lady Melania Trump (R) and Brigitte Macron, wife of French President Macron, leave after a boat trip down the River Seine in Paris, France, July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Martin Bureau/Pool
French President Emmanuel Macron (R), his wife Brigitte Macron (L), US President Donald Trump (2nd L) and First Lady Melania Trump (2nd R) attend a dinner at Le Jules Verne Restaurant on the Eiffel Tower in Paris, on July 13, 2017 as part of US president's 24-hour trip that coincides with France's national day and the 100th anniversary of US involvement in World War I. Donald Trump arrived in Paris for a 24-hour trip that coincides with France's national day and the 100th anniversary of US involvement in World War I. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEBSAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
French President Emmanuel Macron, second left, shakes hands with U.S President Donald Trump while First Lady Melania Trump and Brigitte Macron, left, walk on sides after the Bastille Day military parade on the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris Friday, July 14, 2017. France's annual Bastille Day parade turned into an event high on American patriotism this year, marked by a warm embrace between President Donald Trump and his French counterpart. (Christophe Archambault, Pool via AP)
epa06086421 French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and US President Donald J. Trump (R) attend the traditional military parade as part of the Bastille Day celebrations in Paris, France, 14 July 2017. The Bastille Day, the French National Day, is held annually on 14 July to commemorate the storming of the Bastille fortress in 1789. EPA/IAN LANGSDON
French war planes fly over the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, Friday, July 14, 2017. Paris has tightened security before its annual Bastille Day parade, which this year is being opened by American troops with President Donald Trump as the guest of honor to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the United States' entry into World War I. (Etienne Laurent, Pool via AP)
US President Donald Trump (C) bids farewell, flanked by French President Emmanuel Macron (upL) and his wife Brigitte Macron (upR) as he leaves the annual Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris on July 14, 2017. The parade on Paris's Champs-Elysees will commemorate the centenary of the US entering WWI and will feature horses, helicopters, planes and troops. / AFP PHOTO / ALAIN JOCARDALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images
(from left) U.S. First Lady Melania Trump, U.S. President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron attend the traditional Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, France, July 14, 2017. REUTERS/Christophe Archambault/Pool
epa06086832 US President Donald J. Trump (L) speaks to his wife Melania (C) as French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (R) looks on while attending the traditional military parade as part of the Bastille Day celebrations in Paris, France, 14 July 2017. The Bastille Day, the French National Day, is held annually on 14 July to commemorate the storming of the Bastille fortress in 1789. EPA/IAN LANGSDON
epa06086905 French military tanks drive down the Champs-Elysees as they take part in the traditional military parade as part of the Bastille Day celebrations in Paris, France, 14 July 2017. The Bastille Day, the French National Day, is held annually on 14 July to commemorate the storming of the Bastille fortress in 1789. This year, French President Emmanuel Macron formally invited US President Donald J. Trump and his wife Melania (all unseen) at attend the ceremony to mark the 100th anniversay of US involvement in WWI. EPA/IAN LANGSDON
epa06087026 French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and his wife Brigitte Macron bid farewell to the US President Donald J. Trump and US first lady as they prepare to drive away after attending the annual Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, France, 14 July 2017. The Bastille Day, the French National Day, is held annually on 14 July to commemorate the storming of the Bastille fortress in 1789. EPA/CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT / POOL MAXPPP OUT
PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 14: U.S President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron attend the traditional Bastille day military parade on the Champs-Elysees on July 14, 2017 in Paris France. Bastille Day, the French National day commemorates this year the 100th anniversary of the entry of the United States of America into World War I. (Photo by Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images)
epa06087228 French President Emmanuel Macron (front, 4-L), US President Donald J. Trump (front, 3-L) First Lady Melania Trump (front, 2-L), French prime Minister Edouard Philippe (L) and Brigitte Macron (front, 2-R) watch the traditional military parade as part of the Bastille Day celebrations in Paris, France, 14 July 2017. The Bastille Day, the French National Day, is held annually on 14 July to commemorate the storming of the Bastille fortress in 1789. EPA/Julien de Rosa
President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron during Bastille Day parade on the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris, Friday, July 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
French President Emmanuel Macron, third right,, and his wife Brigitte, fourth left, with U.S President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump stand in front of a huge American flag after the Bastille Day parade in Paris, Friday, July 14, 2017. Paris has tightened security before its annual Bastille Day parade, which this year is being opened by American troops with President Donald Trump as the guest of honor to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the United States' entry into World War I. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
French President Emmanuel Macron, his wife Brigitte Macron, U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump walk on the Place de la Concorde at the end of the traditional Bastille Day military parade in Paris, France, July 14, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman
French President Emmanuel Macron (L) bids farewell to his US counterpart Donald Trump after the annual Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris on July 14, 2017. Bastille Day, the French National Day, is held annually each July 14, to commemorate the storming of the Bastille fortress in 1789. This years parade on Paris's Champs-Elysees will commemorate the centenary of the US entering WWI and will feature horses, helicopters, planes and troops. / AFP PHOTO / ALAIN JOCARDALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images
Photo Gallery: Beginning a 24-hour trip that coincides with France?s national day and the 100th anniversary of U.S. involvement in World War I, President Trump arrived in Paris for a visit filled with Bastille Day pomp.

Although Trump has been known to change his mind abruptly, his initial reaction to the Paris visit was markedly positive.

First, there was yet another dramatic handshake, this one suggesting comity rather than animosity. At the end of the Bastille Day military parade, as he was preparing to leave for the airport, Trump forcefully shook Macron's hand, then patted their clasped hands while shaking that of Macron's wife, Brigitte, as well.

Then came the tweets.

In a series of posts after his departure, Trump wished Macron "congratulations" on Bastille Day, offered his condolences for the victims of the Nice terrorist attack last year and thanked his host for what he characterized as a worthwhile meeting.

"Great conversations with President Emmanuel Macron and his representatives on trade, military and security," Trump tweeted.

Related: [Trump revels in French military pomp far from White House turmoil]

In France, the jury was out as to Macron's precise motives in inviting — and embracing — Trump.

For some, even those in Macron's inner circle, the principal motivation was a version of the ancient proverb: Keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer.

"Emmanuel Macron wants to try to prevent the president of the United States being isolated," Christophe Castaner, a spokesman for Macron, told French reporters this month. "He sometimes makes decisions that we disagree with, on climate change, for example."

To that end, Macron made no secret of those differences in his joint appearance with Trump on Thursday.

"I very much respect the decision taken by President Trump," Macron said at the news conference. "He will work on implementing his campaign promises, and as far as I'm concerned, I remain attached to the Paris accord and will make sure that step by step we can do everything which is in the accord."

But as Castaner put it: "We can do two things. Either you can say, 'We're not speaking, because you haven't been nice,' or we can reach out to him to keep him in the circle."

To others, inviting Trump was a means for Macron to bolster the international image of France — notably before his presidency is put to its first major domestic test this fall, when the French president will attempt to shove a controversial labor reform effort through Parliament.

In late May, Macron hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he confronted in a bilateral news conference about the activities of state-owned Russian media.

With this visit, analysts say, he sought to do the same.

"It makes Macron the man who invites the powerful people of the world," said François Heisbourg, a French national security expert who advised the Macron campaign on terrorism. "It instantaneously reset the image of France as a player.

"The signal was that France is back again — now, whether that's lasting, only time will tell."

Related: Donald Trump is deeply unpopular in France. So why didn’t Parisians protest his visit?

Related: Trump loves a military parade — it’s one reason he’s heading to Paris

Related: Macron is the president Trump wishes he could be

Related: Today’s coverage from Post correspondents around the world

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James McAuley is a reporter based in Paris.

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