French President Emmanuel Macron decries nationalism in speech to U.S. Congress

French President Emmanuel Macron drew Wednesday on the “shared bond” of France-U.S. relations to call for a rejection of isolationism and instead for the countries to bond together anew for a 21st century security.

Macron opened a joint meeting of Congress, saying “the American and French people have had a rendezvous with freedom.”

Speaking almost directly to U.S. President Donald Trump, Macron quickly turned to the top issues of Syria, free trade and the Paris accord on climate change — issues where he and Trump disagree — as he urged the United States not to retreat from world affairs, but to embrace its historic role as a military leader of world affairs.

“We are living in a time of anger and fear because of these current global threats,” Macron told lawmakers. “You can play with fears and angers for a time, but they do not construct anything.”

With a nod to great U.S. leaders, including former President Franklin Roosevelt, he warned against sowing seeds of fear.

“We have two possible ways ahead. We can choose isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism. It can be tempting to us as a temporary remedy to our fears,” he said. “But closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world.”

U.S. President Donald Trump and Macron spoke at a news conference at the White House in Washington on Tuesday.(Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

In recounting common bonds from the earliest days of the United States, Macron talked about a meeting between Ben Franklin and the French philosopher Voltaire, “kissing each other’s cheeks.”

In an apparent reference to his friendly meetings this week with Trump, he said, “It can remind you of something.”

Macron was speaking as part of his visit to the United States. It’s the first time a president from France has addressed Congress in more than a decade, but follows a tradition of foreign leaders appearing at the U.S. Capitol.

Macron also casting climate policy in Trump’s signature terms.

Addressing a joint meeting of Congress Wednesday, Macron said he was confident the U.S. will re-join the Paris climate agreement.

There is no Planet B.– French President Emmanuel Macron

His appeal: “Let us work together in order to make our planet great again and create new jobs and new opportunities while safeguarding our earth.”

Because if earth’s climate continues to warm, “there is no Planet B,” he added.

It was a clear play on Trump’s signature campaign pledge in 2016 to “make America great again.” Trump cancelled any U.S. involvement in the landmark climate accord and said his focus is on American jobs.

The strong language followed a collegial couple of days for Macron and Trump.

With exaggerated handshakes and a pair of kisses, Macron professed a sunny, best-friends relationship, even as the two allies strained to bridge differences over the Iran nuclear agreement, Syria and more.

Trump open to Syria involvement

Hosting Macron for the first state visit of his administration, culminating in a lavish dinner Tuesday night, Trump remained firm in his criticism of past and enduring American undertakings in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East.

But he appeared open to the French president’s pleas to maintain U.S. involvement in Syria — and expressed openness to negotiating a new agreement with Iran.

Macron will address U.S. Congress on Wednesday and is expected to make the case for the U.S. staying in the Iran nuclear accord.

As Trump weighs withdrawing the U.S. from the accord, he issued a warning to Iran against restarting its nuclear program, saying, “They will have bigger problems than they’ve ever had before.”

At a joint White House news conference Tuesday, he appeared to be more in line with Macron’s push for a longer-term U.S. presence in Syria. Trump, who announced weeks ago that he would withdraw American troops, said Macron reinforced the idea of a potential Iranian takeover of territory liberated from the Islamic State group.

“We’ll be coming home,” Trump said, “but we want to leave a strong and lasting footprint.”

Macron told Trump that together, the U.S. and France would defeat terrorism, curtail weapons of mass destruction in North Korea and Iran, and act together on behalf of the planet. That last point was a reference to Macron’s work to revive the U.S. role in the Paris climate accord to fight global warming, another international agreement Trump has spurned.

Differences aside, Trump and Macron lavished praise — and even a pair of kisses — on each other Tuesday.

“It’s an honour to call you my friend,” Trump said, after predicting Macron would be a historic leader of France.

In one light moment, Trump sought to demonstrate some of the personal chemistry he claimed. The U.S. president brushed something off Macron’s suit jacket, saying, “We have a very special relationship; in fact, I’ll get that little piece of dandruff off. We have to make him perfect — he is perfect.”

The meetings followed a pomp-filled welcome ceremony on the South Lawn. Highlights included a 21-gun salute and Melania Trump’s wide-brim white hat, which drew more comments than all the rest of the pageantry.

Trump and Macron talk in the Oval Office, where Trump joked about brushing dandruff off Macron’s jacket.(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

‘Enduring friendship’ 

Trump said before an audience of U.S. soldiers and members of his cabinet that the relationship he forged with Macron at the start of his presidency was a testament to the “enduring friendship that binds our two nations.” He thanked the French leader for his “steadfast partnership” in the recent missile strike in response to the chemical attack in Syria.

Macron said, “History is calling us. It is urging our people to find the fortitude that has guided us in the most difficult of times. France and with it, Europe, and the United States have an appointment with history.” Later, he placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.

The social highlight of Macron’s visit was Tuesday night’s formal state dinner at the White House. More than 130 guests dined on rack of lamb and nectarine tart and enjoyed an after-dinner performance by the Washington National Opera.

Macron lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Tuesday.(Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press)

Iran nuclear accord

As for substantive issues, one of Macron’s main objectives during his three-day visit to Washington was to persuade Trump to stay in the Iran accord, which is aimed at restricting Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. Trump is skeptical of the pact’s effectiveness — “it’s insane, it’s ridiculous,” he said Tuesday — but he declined to say whether he would withdraw the U.S. by the May 12 deadline he has set.

He reminded his French counterpart of what he sees as flaws in the agreement, which he said fails to address ballistic missiles or Iran’s activities in Yemen or Syria.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned that pulling out would undermine America’s upcoming nuclear talks with North Korea by proving the U.S. reneges on its promises.

He told The Associated Press in an interview in New York that if Trump withdraws, Iran would “most likely” abandon the deal as well and would no longer be bound by its international obligations. That would free Iran to resume enrichment activity beyond the limits imposed by the 2015 accord.

Trump and his wife Melania, right, pose for a photo after welcoming Macron and his wife Brigitte for a state dinner at the White House on Tuesday.(Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

Macron told reporters that he and Trump would look at the Iran deal “in a wider regional context,” taking into account the situation in Syria. “We have a common objective, we want to make sure there’s no escalation and no nuclear proliferation in the region. We now need to find the right path forward.”

Trump suggested he was open to “doing something” beyond the current Iran agreement as long as it was done “strongly.”

Macron, who calls Trump often, has emerged as something of a “Trump whisperer” at a time when the U.S. president’s relationships with other European leaders are more strained. Trump, who attaches great importance to the optics of pageantry and ceremony, chose to honour Macron with the first state visit of his administration as he woos the French president.

Trump ended his first year in office without receiving a foreign leader on a state visit, the first president in nearly 100 years to fail to do so. He was Macron’s guest last July at the annual Bastille Day military parade in Paris. Macron and his wife, Brigitte, also took Trump and his wife on a tour of Napoleon’s tomb and whisked them up in the Eiffel Tower for dinner overlooking the City of Light.

Trump and Macron share a toast during the dinner.(Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

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