WASHINGTON — When President Donald Trump and newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron first met a year ago, sparks flew and knuckles turned white during a tug-of-war handshake that went viral on social media.
The scene was much different Tuesday when Trump welcomed Macron to Washington and the two leaders exchanged man hugs and extended handshakes and the French president planted a kiss on Trump’s cheek.
Afterward, Trump told reporters, “I like him a lot.”
The two leaders first hit it off during a Bastille Day celebration in Paris in July. Trump then decided to honor Macron with the distinction of being his guest at Trump’s first White House state dinner, held Tuesday night.
Appearing with Trump and Macron at Tuesday’s welcome ceremony were their wives, Melania Trump and Brigitte Macron, clad in stylish white suits and high heels. Melania Trump also wore a white hat that had female anchors swooning on cable news.
At a joint White House news conference later Tuesday, Macron mused that the two presidents get along because of the historic ties between Washington and Paris, but also “it is maybe because we both are not politicians — or typical politicians. And none of us easily change one’s mind.”
During the news conference, Trump and Macron tangled over Iran, Syria, climate change and trade.
Trump reminded those in the room that he will announce by May 12 whether he will pull the United States out of the international Iran nuclear pact. He has railed against the deal since his early days on the campaign trail.
Macron has worked to dissuade Trump from pulling the U.S. out of the pact on the grounds that it should prevent Tehran from nuclear activities through 2025. On Tuesday, Macron suggested a different tack when he said he wished “from now on to work on a new deal with Iran.”
In March, Trump said he wanted to pull U.S. troops out of Syria “very soon.” Macron later took credit for persuading Trump to allow U.S troops to remain there. Then, earlier this month, the U.S. participated in a joint operation with France and Britain to launch missile strikes against Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.
Trump appeared to move toward Macron’s position when he said, “Emmanuel and myself have discussed the fact that we don’t want to give Iran open season in the Mediterranean, especially since we really control it.”
Macron conceded that France would continue to work according to terms of the Paris climate accord in the hope that research will present solutions to greenhouse gas proliferation.
In his sharpest challenge to Trump, Macron asserted that trade between France and the United States is balanced, then added, “We are following and respecting the (World Trade Organization) rules because we are the ones who contributed to the creation of the WTO, and we think it makes sense to respect the rule you decided to create.”
Administration officials predicted that Trump and Macron would discuss tariffs during two bilateral meetings.
The social highlight of Macron’s visit was Tuesday night’s formal state dinner at the White House. About 150 guests were coming to dine on rack of lamb and nectarine tart and enjoy an after-dinner performance by the Washington National Opera.
After 7 p.m., as drizzle grayed the Washington sky, the Trumps emerged from the White House under the North Portico holding hands to greet the Macrons, who arrived by car. Both presidents wore black tuxedos. Melania Trump wore a full-length shimmery gown with gunmetal stiletto heels. Brigitte Macron wore a full-length white gown with gold beading.
On Monday, the two couples planted a European sessile oak on the South Lawn of the White House. That evening they hopped on Marine One for a ride down the Potomac River that ended with dinner at Mount Vernon, home of George Washington.
While Trump had returned from his Bastille Day trip to Paris hoping to stage a military parade on the streets of Washington, the White House presented a scaled-down affair as Macron and Trump walked across the South Lawn before nearly 500 U.S. troops.
Contact Debra J. Saunders at email@example.com or at 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.