Macron Gains Stature With Visit to Washington

May 7, 2018 4:47 pm Last Updated: May 7, 2018 7:55 pm

During his recent visit to Washington, President Emmanuel Macron of France impressed Democrats and a number of Republicans in his address to a joint session of Congress.

In an elegant speech, he urged his hosts to fight against the forces of “isolationism, withdrawal, and nationalism,” and to stand up for the international order America itself has in large measure constructed.

He wants President Trump to re-think Iran, pulling out of the Paris climate accord, and globalism. Trump’s friendship with Macron has allowed the latter to claim France as the bridge between Europe and the United States.

The issues at the top of Macron’s agenda involved attempting to persuade Trump to change his mind on three decisions: to withdraw from Syria, impose steel tariffs on foreign producers, including the EU, and—most significantly—to abrogate the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

On Syria, Macron cautioned that pulling American forces out would create a power vacuum in which Iran, Russia, and terrorist groups would thrive.

He likened the threat to impose tariffs on European steel (25 percent) and aluminum (10 percent) to negotiating “with a gun to our heads,” and urged Trump to rethink his proposal.

On Iran, however, Macron was stymied. He and Trump discussed at length the fate of the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Macron favors a rebranding of previous European assurances that they would be tougher on Iran’s missiles and destructive regional role and would work to make nuclear restrictions on Iran more permanent—if Trump will continue to abide by the JCPOA.

He addressed Trump’s concerns, including the facts that some of the limitations the JCPOA put on Iran’s nuclear activities expire by 2025, and that it does not address ballistic missile development and Iran’s role in conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

Macron’s gambit was based on the hope that the “new deal” would provide a face-saving means for Trump to stick to the old deal. However, it may now be necessary to negotiate an additional, new deal with Iran—and the United States would like it to be even more formal, possibly a legally-binding treaty.

Macron’s approach would keep the nuclear pact, but would also address Iran’s long-term nuclear work, its regional military activity in Syria and Yemen, and its ballistic missile program, which Tehran claims is for defensive measures.

What isn’t known yet is whether the Iranians or other signatories to the original agreement—the UK, Germany and the EU—will agree to the new proposal. Pressure has been building because the next Congress-imposed deadline is May 12. Under U.S. law, the President has to recertify the agreement every few months.

In sharp contrast to Macron’s diplomatic efforts, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, an arch-opponent of the nuclear deal, is urging the Trump administration to cancel it, accusing Iran of lying to the world about its nuclear weapons program both before and since the 2015 deal.

It now appears unlikely that Trump will waive U.S. sanctions against Iran.  If he doesn’t, the United States will be in violation of the deal, potentially allowing Iran to slip out of its restraints.

Europeans fear that if Trump scraps the agreement, Iran will restart its nuclear program in earnest and the United States or Israel—without sanctions or allies to contain Iran—might strike Iran militarily.

Should Trump decide to opt out of the nuclear deal, Macron is wisely positioning himself as an “honest broker” for the aftermath. He has proposed setting up a framework under which they could discuss the JCPOA with Iran, along with three other issues Trump has taken issue with: the missiles, the “sunset” agreements, and Tehran’s regional activities.

Macron’s trip to Washington yielded some political benefits.  The French ambassador to Washington, Gérard Araud, later said, “the bilateral talks at the [White House] were substantial and consequential.”

However, Macron’s high-profile international diplomacy was challenged at home. The recent May Day protest is the latest in a series of large demonstrations against his sweeping overhauls of everything from the education system to the state rail operator.

His speech to the U.S. Congress on April 25 eloquently presented the case for the international liberal order.

Macron’s goal from the outset has been to assert France as a leader on global issues such as climate change, European unity, and resistance to right-wing nationalism and authoritarianism.

As a “consummate globalist,” he has forged good relations and bonhomie with leaders holding opposing views. The United States and France, Macron said, are the “guarantors of contemporary multilateralism.”

The French newspaper Le Figaro was correct in lauding Macron for “reinforcing his standing on the international scene” while in Washington.

David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in Canada’s House of Commons for almost 27 years. In Jean Chrétien’s Cabinet, he was secretary of state (Latin America and Africa) and secretary of state (Asia-Pacific). He is the author of several books and co-author with David Matas of “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs.”