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Trump, French President Macron to Disagree Privately, Official Says

French president visits next week for first state visit of Trump presidency

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes President Donald Trump prior to a meeting at the Elysee Presidential Palace on July 13, 2017 in Paris, France. (Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images)
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes President Donald Trump prior to a meeting at the Elysee Presidential Palace on July 13, 2017 in Paris, France. (Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images)

There will be ample smiles and handshakes for the camera, but don’t expect the U.S. and French heads of state to agree on much behind closed doors when they meet next week in Washington.

A number of contentious issues — from the Iran nuclear deal to U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs to Syria — will be on the agenda next week when President Donald Trump hosts French President Emmanuel Macron for a visit that largely will be symbolic.

It is unlikely the two leaders “will come close to or come to full agreement” on those and other matters next week, a senior administration official said Friday.

Trump and Macron are expected to discuss those prickly issues during private meetings and dinners and sessions with their top aides, when the French leader visits next week for Trump’s first state visit as commander in chief, the official said.

On Syria, the official hinted Trump wants to hear about Macron’s long-term vision for the conflict-torn country, including France’s role on the ground. French and British troops joined in last Friday’s cruise missile strikes to punish the Syrian government for a chemical weapons attack. 

“I’m confident they will discuss potential French contributions in the campaign, and then we’ll see where it goes from there,” the official said.

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Trump has expressed a preference to remove all U.S. troops from Syria, but, for now, has been talked out of such a move by top aides and allies like Macron. His preference is expected to come up, the official said, adding Trump’s ultimate decision about the future of American forces there is “not completely dependent on what Macron says in this meeting.”

On a May 12 deadline for France, U.K. and Germany to present him a plan to assuage his concerns about the Iran nuclear deal, Trump plans to discuss the matter with Macron. But no announcements are expected until closer to that deadline, the official said, adding it is “hard to say what level of detail” Trump and his French counterpart will get into next week.

The same, he said, is true of their coming talks about a May 1 deadline for the EU to negotiate permanent waivers to Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs.

The bottom line, however: Just about anything is possible with Trump at the helm.

The visit will be chock full of opportunities for Trump and Macron to laud the U.S.-French relationship — and their close personal one — and smile for the cameras. There will be a Monday evening visit with their wives to Mount Vernon, including a stop at George Washington’s tomb and a “private couples’ dinner.”

The United States and France “enjoy a long and enduring friendship,” the official said, describing Trump as “eager” to host the Macrons at the White House and the estate of its first president. The next day, they will huddle privately in the Oval Office — which should include a chance for images of them shaking hands while seated beside one another in front of the room’s iconic fireplace.

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Tuesday also will allow Trump and Macron to assure the world they see eye-to-eye on most issues and are seeking common ground on the Iran nuclear deal, trade and Syria during a joint press conference. And later that night, Trump will host his first state dinner at the White House with Macron as his guest of honor.

The pairing is an odd one but has produced a close relationship so far. Macron is 40 years old to Trump’s 71. He has a more global focus, while Trump governs based on his “America first” philosophy.

The visit will be about symbolism and substance, the official said.

There are “aspects of the [relationship] that both will want to celebrate, the official said, calling the partnership “very deep.”

No major developments or announcements are expected on contentious matters, the official said noting “some things are best discussed face to face.”

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