Macron, Merkel expected to push Trump on keeping US in Iran nuclear deal
Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte arrived at the White House Monday evening to the pomp and circumstance typical of a state visit, the choreography of which he is expected to balance against a delicate diplomatic effort to persuade President Donald Trump to remain in the Iran nuclear deal.
Macron, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel are making back-to-back visits with the president this week in a last-minute lobbying push to prevent the president from potentially sabotaging the agreement.
While Trump turned on a major charm offensive with lavish pageantry as soon as the Macrons touched down in Washington for Trump’s first state visit, it’s unclear if that will result in any movement in his commitment not to sign an upcoming May 12 waiver of sanctions against Iran without significant changes implemented by Congress.
In an interview over the weekend on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif warned that if the sanctions are implemented against Iran’s economy, then the country would be forced to consider a number of “not pleasant” options.
“We have put a number of options for ourselves,” Zarif said. “And those options are ready, including options that would involve resuming at much greater speed our nuclear activities.”
Macron separately appeared on Fox News over the weekend where he said the president runs the risk of Iran rebooting its nuclear program in a manner comparable to North Korea’s own activity which over the past year has thrown the region to the brink of crisis.
“I don’t have any plan B for nuclear against Iran,” Macron said. “That’s why I just want to say, on nuclear, let’s preserve a framework because it’s better than a North Korean type of situation.”
The intricacies of the Iran deal seemed far from the agenda Monday evening, with the Macrons pulling up a White House north driveway lined with military members and flags of every state. The Trumps greeted them at the entrance to the West Wing, Macron trying to give the president the standard French double air-kiss while Trump appeared to try to make conversation.
The foursome then made their way to the South Lawn, where the two leaders ceremoniously planted a sapling, a gift from the Macrons, that according to the first lady’s office was grown in Belleau Wood, the site of a landmark battle during World War I in which more than 9,000 American Marines perished.
As they posed with the tree, shovels in hand, President Trump could be heard responding to a pool reporter’s repeated shouts of “Pompeo?” by thanking Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who hours earlier had announced that he would drop his opposition and vote in favor of CIA director Mike Pompeo to become secretary of state, despite his concerns about Pompeo’s positions on U.S. involvement in foreign wars.
“He never let me down,” Trump said of Paul over the drone of the Marine One presidential helicopter, which then whisked the leaders and their spouses to George Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation in nearby Virginia for a private dinner.
Before they departed the White House, the president gave the Macrons a tour of the Oval Office, which Macron then posted on his Facebook page. Trump can be heard on the video expressing disbelief that the French president had not previously visited the Oval Office. He also showed off the office’s Resolute Desk, noting that it was the same desk John F. Kennedy, Jr., peered out of in an iconic photo with his father, President John F. Kennedy.
The president also noted the secure phone which he pointed out he uses to call Macron.
“It’s supposed to be the latest and greatest but who knows nowadays?” Trump said.
After his two days of meetings with President Trump, Macron will have the opportunity to make a similar pitch on the Iran deal to lawmakers as he makes an address to a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday.
Even as both U.S. and French officials say there’s no expectation that a final decision will be reached on the Iran deal during the visit, Macron’s own lobbying effort will soon be followed up on with a one-day visit by Merkel on Friday.
Merkel and Trump have clashed on issues such as trade and the United States’ plans to move its Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, so it’s unclear what additional pressure she might be able to put on President Trump to back away from his commitment the last time he signed off on the Iran sanctions waiver.
Merkel said in a recent interview with an Israeli TV channel that she understood the concerns from the U.S. and Israel regarding the agreement but that she would push vigorously for the continuation of the accord.
“We believe it’s better to have this agreement, even if it is not perfect, than to have no agreement,” Merkel said. “We will continue to discuss this, but Germany will watch very closely to ensure that this agreement will be fulfilled.”
In January, President Trump delivered remarks announcing he would not sign a waiver of sanctions for Iran if Congress did not pass new legislation including series of “fixes” to the nuclear deal, but ahead of the May 12 deadline there’s no real indication that any such legislation could pass in time.
“This is a last chance,” Trump said. “In the absence of such an agreement, the United States will not again waive sanctions in order to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. And if at any time I judge that such an agreement is not within reach, I will withdraw from the deal immediately.”
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