French President Emmanuel Macron, the self-styled great persuader and "Trump whisperer", is facing a monumental task when he arrives in Washington DC on Monday: Convince President Trump to grant the EU a permanent exemption to the steel and aluminum tariffs the US unveiled last month.
While Macron isn't the only European leader visiting the White House this week, Germany's Angela Merkel will also meet with Trump, Macron will receive the pomp and celebration worthy of the first official state visit to the White House of the Trump era. And furthermore, Trump's relationship with the dowdy German leader isn't nearly as warm (at least on the surface) as his relationship with Macron, with whom he bonded during a visit to France last year to celebrate Bastille Day.
And in the first glimpse of the rhetoric Macron is planning to use to persuade the notoriously fickle Trump to give the EU a pass on trade, the French leader sat down with Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace - virtually guaranteeing that Trump would see the interview.
In it, Macron insists that the US's recent protectionist behavior has strained its relationships with allies and adversaries alike. But more importantly, Macron warns that if Trump wants to successfully win concessions from the Chinese, he's going to need allies.
WALLACE: Let's do what we call a lightning round, quick questions, quick answers. When the president announced new tariffs on aluminum and steel for the European Union, you said, we will not negotiate with a gun pointed at her head.
WALLACE: There is now a May 1st deadline. Who is going to blink, President Trump or you?
MACRON: I hope -- I mean, he will not implement these new tariffs and he will decide for an exemption for the European Union. You don't make trade war with your ally.
WALLACE: But he has said that he is going to implement.
MACRON: He said exemptions through May 1st. Let's see what it will do on May 1st. I just say, where are your priorities? You cannot make a trade war with our ally.
I'm very -- I'm an easy guy. I'm very simple. I'm straightforward. It's too complicated -- if you make war against everybody. You make trade war against China, trade war against Europe, war in Syria, war against (INAUDIBLE) -- come on, it doesn't work. You need ally. We are the ally.
Of course, Macron's rhetoric represents a significant deescalation from his initial reaction to the tariffs, when he angrily advised that France would not negotiate "with a gun to our head." Still, the surprisingly brief discussion on trade suggests that Macron will focus on the soft sell during his conversation with the president this week, which comes roughly a week before the tariff exemptions expire.
Other French officials, including Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, have opted for more aggressive rhetoric. Le Maire intimated in remarks on Friday that the failure of the US to grant the EU a permanent exemption to the tariffs would push the bloc closer to China, per Reuters.
They then moved on to the subject of Syria - a sensitive subject for Macron, given the White House's embarrassing rejection of Macron's claim that he had convinced Trump to remain in Syria.
The most surprising revelation here was Macron's openness about his desire for an open-ended military presence in Syria even after the last vestiges of ISIS's forces have been driven from Syrian territory. In remarks following last week's airstrike on facilities purportedly involved in Syria's chemical weapons program, France, the UK and the US assured the world that the strike was a one-time deal, unless the regime carries out another horrific gas attack (or the White Hats decide to fake one).
The US, Macron said, needs to play an integral role in "building the new Syria."
WALLACE: After the missile strike, you said, we convinced him it was necessary to stay for the long term.
The White House pushed back. He wants U.S. forces to come home as quickly as possible.
So, Mr. President, which is it? Is President Trump going to pull out of Syria as soon as ISIS is defeated, or have you persuaded him to stay to help stabilize the situation there?
MACRON: It's not automatically U.S. forces, but that's U.S. diplomacy and that's your president. We will have to build the new Syria afterward, and that's why I think the U.S. hold is very important.
Why? I will be very blunt. The day we will finish this war against ISIS, if we leave, definitely and totally, even from a political point of view, we will leave the floor to the Iranian regime, Bashar al-Assad and his guys, and they will prepare the new war. They will fuel the new terrorists.
So, my point is to say, even after the end of the war against ISIS, the U.S., France, our allies, all the countries of the region, even Russia and Turkey, will have a very important role to play in order to create this new Syria and ensure Syrian people to decide for the future.
Finally, Wallace asked Macron about Iran deal - another top priority for Macron, who is hoping to entice the US to stay in the agreement even if the concessions that Trump craves aren't in the picture. Macron said that diplomacy predicated on honoring the agreement would be the best way to pressure Iran to scale back its ballistic missiles program. But of course, by admitted that he'd also like to push for curbs on Iran's missiles program, Macron has implicitly endorsed a strategy that President Trump favors - that is, not changing the Iran deal, but forging a second agreement that would limit the ballistic missiles program.
WALLACE: Iran, president has a May 12th deadline for deciding whether or not to life -- continue to lift the sanctions on Tehran. Would it be a mistake for the president to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal?
MACRON: If this (INAUDIBLE) JCPOA a perfect thing for our relationship with Iran, no. But for nuclear, what do you have as a better option? I don't see it. What is the what-if scenario or your plan B? I don't have any plan B for nuclear against Iran. So, that's the question we will discuss.
That's why I just want to say, on nuclear, let's preserve a framework because it's better than the (AUDIO GAP) of North Korean type of situation.
Second, I'm not satisfied with the situation with Iran. I want to fight against ballistic missile. I want to contain their influence in the region. My point is to say, don't leave now to JCPOA as long as you don't have a better option for nuclear and let's complete it with ballistic missile and a regional containment.
Trump's relationship with Macron famously began with one of the most awkward handshakes in the history of modern diplomacy. During the interview, Macron brushed off a question posed by Wallace about the handshake, saying it was a completely "natural" moment.
But despite the public displays of respect and admiration and the purposeful playing up of this narrative by the two world leaders, Macron has repeatedly failed to win concessions from Trump. The French president wasn't able to convince Trump - a fellow "maverick of the system" as Macron describes him - to keep the US in the Paris Accord. Later, the White House, as we noted above, embarrassed Macron by denying that Trump assented to keeping American forces in Syria for the long term.
But if he fails to win even this most basic concession on trade (that is, the permanent exemption on aluminum and steel tariffs), maybe Macron's next showy handshake will be with President Xi Jinping instead.